David Blackburn

The spectre of jihad in Libya

The spectre of jihad in Libya
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While Britain agonised over deploying attack helicopters to Libya, the conflict seems to have escalated of its own accord. Noman Benotman, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has described the current dispositions for the Times this morning (£). He has learned that many of Gaddafi’s military leaders are planning a coup to save their skins; Colonel Gaddafi is reluctant to arrest their nascent treachery for fear of triggering open rebellion. Other officers are following the example of civilian administrators like Moussa Koussa, feeling that now is the time to cut and run.

News of Gaddafi’s withering power will please NATO, even if it is exaggerated. However, Benotman’s other revelations will unnerve the alliance. In lawless Benghazi, the rebels are growing fractious and jihadists are providing order with their singular brand of justice. He writes:

‘Former jihadists from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, of which I was once a senior leader, who have recently returned to the UK from fighting against Gaddafi have told me of impromptu death squads in Benghazi that have begun killing former regime loyalists there. These killings are quickly creating an atmosphere of anarchy and suspicion behind rebel lines, as well as giving Gaddafi’s forces a new reason to fight to the bitter end.

These former jihadists also told me that they have seen new generations of radical Islamists playing an ever greater role in the fighting against Gaddafi on the front lines, where they are often only under the nominal control of the rebel government.’

Benotman calls for NATO to finish the job before the ghost of bin Laden does it for them. Benotman may be exaggerating, but NATO cannot disregard the spectre of extremism. Greater military action remains unworkable, even though Russia has joined the rest of the G8 in calling for Gaddafi to abdicate. Perhaps NATO should now openly engage the trembling Gaddafi regime to engineer its leader’s fall.