Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, even John McCain and other NATO leaders claimed that the rebels were freedom fighters, not linked to al-Qaeda. Once again, they were wrong. The credibility of Libya’s rebels suffered a blow when they were forced to acknowledge that Islamists within their ranks killed their chief battlefield commander last week.
UK TELEGRAPH –Their admission that the shadowy Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade was behind the assassination of Gen Abdel Fattah Younes has raised concern that religious elements within the rebellion have now acquired considerably greater influence than previously thought.
Thursday’s killing of Gen Younes, who earlier this year defected from the Tripoli government to join the opposition fight against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, came as a damaging blow to the rebels’ military efforts. He was widely seen as one of the few military figures on the rebel side capable of organising their forces against the better trained Libyan government army.
But the admission that the militia whose members are responsible for his death has Islamist leanings, and had been allowed to operate in the east of the country with apparent impunity, will reignite fears that the West’s support of the Libyan rebels may ultimately open the way to an Islamic state when Col Gaddafi is eventually forced out.
So secretive is the Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade – said to be one of at least 30 semi-independent militias operating in the east of the country – that until yesterday few in the rebel capital had ever heard of it. The fact that it takes its name from one of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions and most successful military commanders is itself alone an indication of Islamist bent. Unlike the other militias, the Brigade seems to exercise considerable power within the rebel movement. Since Gen Younes’s death, it has emerged that the group was in charge of internal security in Benghazi, essentially operating as a secret police force.
There has never been any question that Islamists have been involved in the rebellion. Western diplomats have even conceded that some foreign jihadists have succeeded in crossing into Libya to fight with the rebels, whose struggle has been endorsed by al Qaeda.
But the new development will undermine the insistence of western officials and rebel officials who have always insisted that the Islamists were few in number and operated only on the periphery of the rebellion – even though eastern Libya sent dozens of radicalised Muslims to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.