Libya: Facing The Consequences

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September16, 2012:   The government has arrested four people believed to be involved in the September 11, attack in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead. The government says it has the names of fifty people involved in the attack and is searching for them. The attack force involved foreign as well as Libyan Islamic radicals. Some of the suspects are believed to have already fled the country and some are believed to be hiding in Egypt. The government believes that the attack was planned in advance to commemorate the 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. and avenge the deaths of Osama bin Laden last year and the current number two al Qaeda leader (Sheikh Abu Yahya al Libi) in Pakistan three months ago. Clips from a new film critical of Islam appearing on the Internet was coincidental and had nothing to do with the attack except to make it easier to stage a demonstration to distract the guards around the house where the four American victims were staying in Benghazi.

Libyan officials had warned American embassy personnel on September 8th about the increasing danger from Islamic radical groups in Benghazi. Since the attack the U.S. has sent 50 marines and more intelligence personnel to Libya. Finding qualified intel personnel for this was difficult because so many Arab speaking intel specialists are working on the Syria situation (mainly in Turkey and Jordan). Meanwhile, American intel analysts back in the U.S. are going over video (from satellites and UAVs) and electronic intercepts from Libya. American UAVs have been seen over Benghazi since the 11th. All this is being coordinated with Libya’s new intelligence service, which is only a year old and spread thin by the need to track all the militias and Islamic radical groups inside Libya. An FBI investigation team has also arrived and is helping the Libyan police collect and analyze evidence.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya, and Benghazi, the ambassador did not request U.S. Maine Corps embassy guards and preferred to travel around with light security. There were plenty of pro-U.S. Libyan militias around but apparently no effective security plan for dealing with a well-coordinated attack. Several dozen heavily armed (with assault rifles, RPGs, and heavy machine-guns) terrorists attacked the compound the U.S. ambassador was staying in on the 11th.

The basic security problem in Libya is the presence of over a hundred local militias, formed over a year ago to overthrow, and then replace, the Kaddafi government. Unimpressed with the competence, or intentions, of the new government most militias kept their guns, their organization, and an attitude that they could make rules as they saw fit. This has not led to general chaos, but it has led to a lot of tense situations as the new government tries to deal with all these new warlords. Bribes are preferred over bullets and since the government has control over the oil income, there is cash available for buying peace. The major task is turning these temporary peace deals into long-term arrangements. That means disarming the militias and persuading them to turn into political parties, rather than remaining private armies. This approach does not work with the hard-core Islamic militias, who are angry that they did not get many votes in the July elections and are still determined to turn Libya into an Islamic dictatorship. The government does not want to go to war with the Islamic radical groups, at least not yet. Until the September 11th attack in Benghazi the government thought it had an unwritten agreement for the Islamic radicals to leave foreign diplomats alone. Now the government has to worry about the Islamic radical groups uniting to oppose any government effort to capture and punish those responsible for killing the American ambassador (which is being hailed by Islamic radicals everywhere as a great victory).

Oil production is running at 1.4 million barrels a day and oil income for the first seven months of the year was $30.5 billion. This is near pre-revolution levels (1.6 million barrels a day). So there is plenty of money but there is also lots of corruption and a widespread dependency on oil income. Kaddafi ran a low-budget welfare state that diverted a lot of the oil money to the Kaddafi family and closest associates. Libyans want a more equitable distribution of the oil money but the rampant corruption is getting in the way.

September 15, 2012: Al Qaeda took credit for the September 11 attack in Benghazi and called for more American diplomats to be attacked wherever possible. No Islamic radical group in Libya has taken credit for the recent attack, apparently because it is obvious that most Libyans are angry about killing the U.S. ambassador and the Americans are determined to find and punish the killers. The Islamic terrorists in general are very afraid of UAV attacks, which have killed hundreds of key terrorist leaders and technicians (bomb builders, publicists, intel specialists).

September 14, 2012: The airport in Benghazi was closed for a few hours until police could get Islamic radical groups to stop firing into the air, trying to hit American UAVs (which are flying out of range of the heavy machine-guns used) circling the city in support of the search for those responsible for killing the U.S. ambassador on the 11th.

September 13, 2012: Police in Benghazi arrested four men and charged them with involvement in the killing of four Americans on the 11th.

September 11, 2012: In Benghazi Islamic radicals attacked a U.S. State Department compound, killing the American ambassador to Libya, another diplomat, and two former SEALs acting as bodyguards.

September 7, 2012: The government informed Lebanon that it has arrested, and will prosecute, ten former Kaddafi officials believed involved in the kidnapping and murder of a senior Shia cleric (Musa Sadr) during an official visit to Libya in 1978. The mysterious death of this senior Lebanese Shia cleric has long been a source of friction between Lebanon and Libya. It is believed that Sadr was killed by Kaddafi at the request of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as the Sunni Palestinians were then fighting Shia militias in Lebanon (which was in the midst of a civil war that did not end until 1990).

September 6, 2012: Sunni Islamic radicals fought with Sufi villagers 50 kilometers southeast of Benghazi as the Sunni gunmen attempted to destroy a Sufi shrine in the village of Rajma. There were about ten casualties and the Islamic radicals retreated. The villagers called on the national government for help. But the government has been reluctant to confront the Islamic radicals, despite the growing number of attacks on Sufi shrines, schools, and mosques in the last two weeks. For a year now Islamic radical militis have been attacking Sufi shrines, first in Tripoli and now in eastern Libya. The Sufi, like the Shia (and many similar groups) are minority Islamic sects that conservative factions among the majority Sunni consider heretical. This often leads to violence, as it has for decades in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, and similar groups, are particularly active in going after "heretical" Moslems. The heretics often fight back, and most Moslems do not back the radicals. The government is trying to avoid a battle between Islamic radicals and the rest of the population, lest Libya suffer what Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran are going through.

September 5, 2012: Mauritania finally agreed to turn over Kaddafi’s secret police chief, Abdullah al Senussi. The government has been negotiating this for six months. While Mauritania had arrested Senussi for entering the country (from Morocco) on a false passport last March, they said they were under no obligation to honor a Libyan extradition request. Senussi sought to muster enough cash and friends so that he could escape to whichever sanctuary he was headed for. That effort apparently failed. Libya and many Western and Arab intelligence agencies want to talk to Senussi, who was the keeper of Kaddafis most embarrassing and explosive secrets (involving torture, terror, and dirty deeds in general). Mauritania was under pressure from many nations to turn over Senussi. One of the things foreigners want to discuss with Senussi was a recently discovered Kaddafi program to store weapons and bomb making materials at many Libyan embassies around the world. These weapons were to be used to kill Libyan expatriates who were causing Kaddafi problems and support local terrorists who were working for Kaddafi. Senussi is believed to have been involved with this embassy terrorism support program, which has been in place for decades.

September 2, 2012: In Benghazi a car bombing killed one army intelligence commander and wounded another. There have been a growing number of such attacks, which appear to be carried out by Islamic terror groups seeking to cripple government efforts to obtain information about exactly who the Islamic radicals are and what their plans are.

August 28, 2012: The interior minister admitted that the government would not confront Sunni Islamic terror groups that are attacking and increasingly destroying Sufi facilities and holy places. The government justified this policy by pointing out the risk of widespread violence if the Islamic radicals were held accountable for their actions.

August 27, 2012: The United States resumed full services at its embassy in Tripoli but warned Americans to avoid travel to Libya because of the uncertain security situation. The national police force is still being rebuilt and dozens of the hundred plus armed militias are considered dangerous. This is especially true of the Islamic radical groups, who are often very hostile to non-Moslems.

 

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