Growing concern over jihadist ‘safe haven’ in eastern Libya
The city of Derna, Libya
May 15th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Growing concern over jihadist ‘safe haven’ in eastern Libya

By Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, CNN

Diplomats and other observers in Libya say that with elections one month away, the National Transitional Council is struggling to exert control over various militia prominent in the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi. The situation is further complicated by tribal rivalries and a growing presence of Islamist militants in some areas.

One source briefed by Western intelligence officials says of particular concern is the city of Derna on the Mediterranean coast some 160 miles (300 kilometers) west of the Egyptian border. The source tells CNN that hundreds of Islamist militants are present in and around the town, and there are camps where weapons and physical training are provided to militants. He said one official had described the area as "a disaster zone."

Tensions have grown between local people and the militants. Last month, a number of Derna residents went to a camp on the outskirts of the city, according to the source, and forced militants to leave.

There have been a number of car bomb explosions in Derna in recent months, apparently as rival Islamist factions compete for supremacy in the area. One is said to have targeted Abdel Hakim al Hasadi, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who spent time in Afghanistan in the 1990s. He told reporters last year he had been handed over to the Americans and sent back to Libya, where he was jailed for six years. The LIFG formally repudiated al Qaeda in 2009 and disbanded shortly afterwards.

The source said that groups sympathetic to al Qaeda as well as former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had converged on Derna – and the presence of one man was especially worrying: senior al Qaeda operative Abdul Basit Azuz. He had been sent to the area last spring by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and now had some 300 men under his command. Azuz is operating at least one training facility and has sent some of his men to establish contact with other militant Islamist groups as far west as Brega, the source said.

Al-Zawahiri’s plan was for him to establish a "home base for al Qaeda" in Libya, the source said.

A senior counter-terrorism official told CNN that western intelligence is aware of Azuz’s presence, his recruitment and training of fighters, and believes his redeployment to Libya had the backing of al-Zawahiri.

The official said it was unclear whether former LIFG militants were contesting Azuz’z presence in Derna. It was possible, he said, that al Qaeda had grown strong enough in the area to deter such a confrontation.

The threat to Western security posed by al Qaeda in eastern Libya was mainly “over-the-horizon” according to the official - but had the potential to become significant because of Libya’s proximity to Europe.

Azuz has been close to al-Zawahiri since the 1980s and first traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to join mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation - as did hundreds of Arab fighters.

Azuz later moved to the UK and lived in Manchester, where he increasingly cropped up on the radar screen of British counter-terrorism services who suspected he was trying to radicalize youngsters, according to the source briefed by Western intelligence. In the period after the July 7, 2005, London bombings he was one of about a dozen Libyans held under so-called "control orders" and detained at Belmarsh high-security prison. After being released, he left the UK around 2009 for the Afghan-Pakistan border region, along with the son of another militant who was subsequently killed there.

Derna has long been associated with Islamic militancy. It was an area where the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was strong during Gadhafi’s rule. Many of the Libyan fighters who joined al Qaeda in Iraq came from the Derna area, according to documents seized by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006. Many returned, while other recruits never reached Iraq, making the area potentially fertile ground for al Qaeda recruitment.

In 2008, a U.S. diplomat who visited Dernah noted in a cable: "Unlike the rest of the country, sermons in eastern Libyan mosques are laced with phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions."

One source told CNN that the situation in the east was complicated by the presence of foreign fighters – from Algeria, Morocco and the Sahel – including some from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM.)

Al Qaeda has tried to harness the unrest in north Africa to its advantage over the past year. One senior figure in the group, Abu Yahya al-Libi, said in a video message to fellow Libyans distributed on jihadist forums last year: "At this crossroads you have found yourselves, you either choose a secular regime that pleases the greedy crocodiles of the West and for them to use it as a means to fulfill their goals, or you take a strong position and establish the religion of Allah."

The apparent growth of Islamist militancy is just one of many challenges facing post-Gadhafi Libya, as it prepares for elections. Different militia remain influential players and have not been disarmed. Last week there was a gun battle in Tripoli close to the prime minister’s office. The special UN envoy to Libya, Ian Martin, has expressed concern over prisons run by militia that hold an estimated 4,000 detainees alleged to have been Gadhafi supporters.

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Cyric Renner

    Such crude propaganda this article. The reality is America is allied with Al Qaeda and many other so called " Jihadists" groups. Who do you think did all the fighting in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi ? Who are they supporting in Syria ? Who do they use against the Iranians or Russians in the caucasus ? Who did they use against the Serbs ? Perhaps its good Al Qaeda and not the bad Al Qaeda that fights against us in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    June 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  2. slam aman

    much ado about nothing believe me these mentioned groups have stupid mentality and they can do nothing.

    May 20, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
  3. get over yourselves

    take a walk get some fresh air and say hello and make a friend the both of you did it ever occur to you two we get tired of seeing your tiresome post better yet sign up for a secretary job since you like to type :)

    May 16, 2012 at 1:34 am | Reply
  4. punjabi

    long live muammar gaddafi the legend who kept all these dogs in check. now the west will see they stuck their hand in the hornet nest.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  5. yup

    Drop a mini Nuke.....case closed

    May 15, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  6. joseph

    so they need to be taken down asap, ask the help of the people of derna to uproot this pest in this world.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  7. reality

    CNN writes all the BS articles for increasing the TRP, other wise they would have written about 40000 dead people who were killed by guns in last year. and get killed every year. while Jihad has killed no body in USA in last year.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Thanks to the efforts of the FBI, CIA, TSA, and local law enforcement.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
      • joep199

        Let's not forget about the drones taking out their leadership.

        June 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  8. quisp65

    I've become so disliking this "war on terror". We are going around blowing up houses & people based on here-say. The people that committed 911 are dead, gone, or have gotten away with it. It's over & history! Imagine if someone was blowing up our houses based on here-say of the belief that a person is in the house had said bad things about their country and they killed one of your relatives. Would you be angry? Would you then say you wanted to kill people in that country too? That would make you now a target of that countries bombing. This is all wrong! We all have been the victims of negative group think and gossip. We all know how it goes overboard. Don't get me wrong, the people that live over there I have little respect for, but that doesn't give us the right to go around doing this. I support the "terrorist"! We are wrong! We have turned into a bunch of wussies that have given up our rights and subjected ourselves to pointless searches that do no good because terrorists can just explosives in their GI tract, and we go around killing people that has done nothing to us other than they are in the proximity of people that say bad things about us.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • quisp65

      and in continuation..... It's certainly here-say.... we invaded a whole damn country based on WMD and turned out there was none of it. The government is clueless and has no business going around killing people. Stop being a wussy and be brave and accept that we might be attacked again. Going around killing people based on our clueless intelligence doesn't make us any safer. Be brave and be on the side that is right!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
      • paul

        Yep, and now that place is SOOOO nice to live in! Just like no that Libya is "liberated" and Al Qaida are in charge, it will be such a garden spot. I believe that the ONLY reason our "leaders" do this is to keep tensions stirred up. That keeps up the "need" for more military presence around the world.

        May 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Thor the Badass Thunder God

      Here-say based upon what YOU know. I'm sure the expert on everything right? And just HOW MANY years in CIA DIA and NSA have you spent? .............that's what i thought. Everybody thinks they know better like the military/CIA/NSA,Government/Illuminati machine doesn't do it's homework, just presses a button and is apathetic to the consequences, people need to get real

      May 15, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
      • paul

        I believe they know EXACTLY what they are intent upon. It is world domination and the only way they can do that is to break any country that doesn't go along with them and use the "terror" to justify taking our rights away and building a massive military force under the guise of Homeland Security.

        May 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        So, what rights exactly, have you lost, Paul? Please be specific....

        May 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • quisp65

      Thor: I have 46 years understanding people and government. That's enough. Personally I think many things the government does to me & you is clueless. It may seem more impressive to the average Joe, that I'm certain. They didn't even get the reason for invading a country correct. You think we spend that much intelligence before we decide to kill someone? Of course not!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        The reasons for invading Iraq:

        1) use someone else's nation as a battleground in which to fight Al-Queda, preferrably someplace int eh Islamic part of the world to send a strong message (SUCCESSFUL)

        2) dispose of Saddam Hussein and make the world' 2nd largest petroleum reserve available to American purchasers/investors (SUCCESSFUL)

        3) draw the enemy's attention and fire away fromt he American civilian populace, thus preventing more attacks on American soil (SUCCESSFUL)

        4) get rid of one of the world's cruelest despots, who executed 35,000 of his own people in the final year of his rule (SUCCESSFUL)

        5) support emerging democracy in Iraq to the point that it becomes self-sustaining (IN PROGRESS)

        May 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Dennis is this

      Quisp65, learn how to type before you start ripping on the CIA. "I've become so disliking....." That doesnt make any sense you moron. Your stupidity is astonishing. If you dont like the United States... too damn bad. Maybe we should drone strike you.

      May 15, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
      • quisp65

        Maybe you should leave. America is suppose to be the land of the brave. Giving up your rights and go around killing people because your a scared wussy doesn't make you right. It just makes you a clueless wussy. Run off & get yourself groped at an airport. You probably enjoy it. The terrorist will be the ones that swallowed or stuck c4 in their anus. You won't notice that other they won't be trembling like your scared self. We haven't been blown up because the threat is paranoia and doesn't exist to the extent it does in your clueless mind.

        May 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        No, YOU should leave QISP65– you are the one complaining and criticizing your own country. If you don't like it here, then you have over a hundred other countries to choose from....

        Be thankful that we have such an efficient military, law enforcement, and national security force in place, so you can sleep soundly at night without any fear of your home being invaded, or check your mail without fear of receiving an anthrax envelope, or geting on a plane and finding some jerk wearing exploding underwear on your plane with you.

        May 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • reality

      40000 got killed by guns in USA last year, How many people got killed by Jihadi violence in USA ?

      May 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        Less than 40,000, thanks to the TSA, local law enforcement, the military, and our government intelligence agencies. You know, the folks who do the dirty work for the American populace, only to be slandered by spoiled moronic fools like yourself.

        May 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  9. Andrey

    What is this stench? I think I smell the Arab Spring...

    May 15, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
  10. George

    Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton created this condition. The first inquiry when seeking to topple a present regime is: Who follows? Qadafi was bad, but he controlled the pro Salafist eastern tribes. Al Qaeda is worse than Qadafi. US airpower handed Al Qaeda this fertile fields upon which they will grow.

    Astride the Suez canal so accordingly more strategic, Egypt's domination by the Muslim Brotherhood will be worse. Obama and Clinton's inadequacy in foreign affairs will haunt earth for years to come.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
    • joep199

      Yeah, so let's do what the right wing wants, and get involved in Syria, too! Or, better yet, stay in Afghanistan forever. Your right wing myopia keeps you from seeing the truth.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  11. MazeAndBlue

    Al Qaeda • Libya!!!! One Word Of Advise: DUCK!!!!!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
    • paul

      True! The new leaders of Libya were hailed by the CIA as the right people to run the new country. What they kept silent about is that the three are all known Al Qaida.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply

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