Background: Behind Manchester tragedy, story of how UK nurtured jihad in Libya

Ramadan Abedi, father of the 22-year-old bomber Salman Abedi, was among those who got asylum in Britain in the mid-1990s after fleeing Libya following a failed jihadist plot against Muammar Gaddafi

Written by Praveen Swami | Published:May 29, 2017 12:05 am
Ramadan Abedi in Tripoli on May 24. “We don’t believe in killing innocents,” he said.

RAMADAN Abedi was beginning an interview on a Tripoli TV station, when troops from a pro-government militia arrived to march him away at gunpoint. He had been speaking to reporters, just a short while earlier, on news that his son Salman Abedi had carried out a suicide bombing in Manchester. “I was really shocked when I saw the news,” the older Abedi said. “I still don’t believe it.” He had last seen Salman in Tripoli a few days earlier, when the young man had told his mother he was preparing to leave for Hajj. Salman, he went on, was not a fanatic — only “as religious as any child who opens his eyes in a religious family”.

“We don’t believe in killing innocents,” Ramadan Abedi insisted. “This is not us.” The sentence, to anyone familiar with the long and complex story behind the Manchester bombing, was redolent with tragic ironies. In the mid-1990s, Abedi had fled with his family to the UK to escape reprisal for participation in an attempt to stage a coup against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. For years, Britain would nurture the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), despite its intimate relationship with al-Qaeda — only to betray it after 9/11.

Leaders of the LIFG came to power after the great wheel of history turned again, and the United Kingdom found itself on the same side as the jihadists fighting Gaddafi. Now, the LIFG’s leaders no longer call for war against the west — but the words of their fathers, as Salman Abedi’s story shows, are firing the minds of a new generation of young people.

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“AIR Cargo” was how MI6 officer Mark Allen described the man, in a secret letter to Libya’s Foreign Minister, written on Christmas Day in 2003, as the West and Gaddafi prepared to seal a historic peace deal that involved the country giving up its chemical weapons and nuclear ambitions. In 2011, years after the CIA and MI6 had him put into the grim warehouse in Tripoli called the Abu Salim prison, “Air Cargo” reappeared at the head of the forces that stormed Tripoli and drove Gaddafi from power, now a key player in shaping Libya’s destiny.

Hashem Abedi, brother of Manchester bomber Salman Abedi, is seen in a handout photo provided by the Libyan Special Deterrence Force. Reuters

Abdel-Hakim Belhdaj, “Air Cargo”, is now head of the Islamist al-Watan party. His comrade in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Khaled al-Sharif, has served as a Deputy Defence Minister in two Tripoli governments. Born in 1966, Belhadj graduated with a degree in civil engineering before leaving for Afghanistan in 1988. After the war ended, he returned home in 1990 to help found the LIFG. That enterprise was generously aided, former MI6 officer David Shayler has alleged, by Britain’s intelligence services.

The conditions were just right for the LIFG’s growth. Before the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power, Libya had been ruled by descendants of Muhammad Ibn al-Sanusi, a religious revivalist who gave clerics a key role in his monarchy. Gaddafi sidelined the mullahs, seized control of mosques, and nationalised religious endowments. He even began to propagate his own, eccentric version of Islam. This model worked well — until oil revenues began to decline.

Libyan veterans of the Afghan jihad returned to a homeland hard hit by unemployment and inflation. In 1993, the Libyan Army put down a mutiny that left hundreds dead; the following year, jihadists successfully stormed a prison; in 1995, dozens died in fierce fighting around Benghazi; in 1996, a string of attacks compelled the regime to launch air strikes against the LIFG’s mountain bases.

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The LIFG was routed in combat, but its leadership moved to London, often after being rejected, on security grounds, by governments in continental Europe. Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i, one of the architects of al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi, was a LIFG veteran; so too was Abu Yahya al-Libi, among al-Qaeda’s top ideologues, who was killed in 2012. In 2007, Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaeda’s chief, announced that the LIFG had merged with al-Qaeda. In a recorded message, al-Zawahiri hailed the imprisoned Belhadj as the “emir of the mujahideen”.

In fact, Belhadj was then engaged in a secret dialogue with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s London-educated son, who was attempting to bring about a rapprochement with the jihadists. In 2009, 3 incarcerated Libyan jihadists — Khalid Sharif, Sami al-Sa’idi and Belhadj — published Corrective Studies in the Concepts of Jihad. Endorsed by both Libyan authorities and the influential Islamist ideologue Youssef al-Qaradhawi, the manifesto argued that a jihad against Muslim rulers was illegitimate. Instead, it said, Islamists fighting for the faith ought to focus on external “conspiracies by its enemies, the Jews and Christians”.

The deal done, a clean-shaven Belhadj was reintroduced to the world at a press conference in March 2010, nodding in agreement as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi described the new friendship between the regime and its Islamist enemies. More prisoner releases followed — the last, ironically enough, just two days before fighting broke out in Benghazi.

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Since 2011, warring factions have caused tens of thousands of deaths, the Libyan central government has been unable to impose itself, and a welter of jihadist groups have flourished. Although the Islamic State in Libya has been pushed into territorial insignifiance — its major holdings in Sirte and Dernah, acquired in 2014, have long been lost, and two major camps outside Sirte were bombed into rubble early this year — its message remains attractive to many young men. The failure of an earlier generation of jihadists to build a stable state structure has drawn these men to the IS’s more radical, transformative vision.

Interestingly, the IS’s claim of responsibility for the Manchester bombing, released some 10 hours after the attack, was emphatic — and wrong. “With Allah’s grace and support,” it said, “a soldier of the caliphate managed to place explosive devices in the midst of the gatherings of the crusaders in the British city of Manchester.” But we know there was just a lone device, not many. Abedi — whom the claim did not name — was not referred to as a martyr, the language usually used when a perpetrator is killed.

None of this means the IS did not carry out the attack. It does, however, offer compelling reasons to believe the operation was conceived and executed outside the networks of the IS’s central leadership in Syria. Libya could prove to be just one of many incubators for a new phase in the IS’s war, as it metamorphoses in the wake of reverses in Syria and Iraq. The caliphate has now lost more than 60% of the territory it held in Iraq, along with half of its Syrian territories. But in areas like Afghanistan, Libya and even Indonesia, it is preparing for a new, clandestine future. It is a kind of war that men like Ramadan Abedi knew well.

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  1. M
    My Gana
    May 30, 2017 at 1:39 am
    Se : www.huffingtonpost /alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157 : markcurtis fo/2017/05/24/the-british-establishment-is-putting-our-lives-at-risk-our-states-key-ally-is-a-major-public-threat/ The British establishment is putting our lives at risk: Our state’s key ally is a major public threat : www.middleeasteye /news/sorted-mi5-how-uk-government-sent-british-libyans-fight-gaddafi-1219906488 'Sorted' by MI5: How UK government sent British-Libyans to fight Gaddafi : www. antimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/05/24/commentary/world-commentary/money-trumps-anti-terror-task/#.WSgFNBOGNo5 Money trumps anti-terror task : www.thehindu /opinion/op-ed/radical-face-of-saudi-wahhabism/article6612018.ece Radical face of Saudi Wahhabism You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia s: www.washingtonpost /opinions/global-opinions/saudi-arabia-just-pla -donald-trump/2017/05/25/d0932702-4184-11e7-8c25-44
    Reply
    1. M
      My Gana
      May 30, 2017 at 1:32 am
      This is Wahhabism. Ibn Saudi used fundamentalist warriors twice. First defeated by Ottomans, next time supported by British. This is all about collusion by British and US against Muslims/and non-Muslims alike (witness ex Chechnya ) they did/do not like. Most Muslim enemies have been secular nationalists starting with Nasser. They use them as tool and do not care if there is some blowback as can use that to double down on interventions policy.
      Reply
      1. S
        Sivakumar
        May 30, 2017 at 12:15 am
        Well said Rajat, in addition the Satan is preoccupied with the mind set fanatics Islam followers, again and again it's proven by the acts of this barbaric followers that, Islam is not a religion but a cult , it spread across the world due to lust, greed, womenising , child r a p e, looting in the name of religion, abduction and ra ping of other faith ladies and murdering them are the barbaric actions was patronised and practiced by even the founder of the cult. Like a father like a child similarly Like Muhammed like his followers, what ever Mohammed followed and Muslim are now following religiously, conversely, The Muslim never follow ZAKATH, a noble way in giving a portion of wealth to needy, wah Kya cult hai Sahib 😂
        Reply
        1. S
          Sivakumar
          May 30, 2017 at 12:01 am
          @Tats you are right the problem of terrorism never get solved because the mind set of Muhammeden followers will never regret for kill ing kafirs, its deeply oriented in to their DNA that it's not mearly im-possible for course correction. The Hadith is so barbaric that in the name of religion and Allah kil of other faith human being are justified in the Islamic teaching. Have any Muslim sit and think of why true God will justify in kil other faith people, those who sit and introspect and they really leave the religion for ever, A destruction is nearing for the Satan founded cult, it's a matter of time
          Reply
          1. K
            kg
            May 29, 2017 at 3:44 pm
            Exactly.There is a Hindu temple in the state of Gujrat in India. About 1000 years ago it was looted, p ered and damaged on 17 consecutive holiday trips to India from the peacemakers from deserts of Arabia.It were the Hindus of India, who started this by building idol containing temples and fi them with gold.The innocent peace loving holiday makers from Arab were provoked by the temple chants, it is Hindu fault.
            Reply
            1. K
              kg
              May 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm
              Absolutely.US is responsible for Afghanistan jehad.UK is responsible for Libya jehad.Russia is responsible for Syria jehad dia is responsible for the valley jehad. Indonesia is responsible for Malysia jehad 11th centurey, India was responsible for Islamic attacks on it.Hindus were responsible for what Islamic rulers did to India and their heritage.Europe was responsible for jehad ON it's soil during medieveil time.Jepan is responsible for mars jehad.Islamic apolgetics,the world has seen it all,STOP.
              Reply
              1. T
                Tats
                May 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm
                Its funny how we easily blame stan when it gets attacked by the terrorists of its own creation. But blaming UK/USA for the same things suddenly becomes taboo.
                Reply
                1. N
                  Nitul Bhatt
                  May 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm
                  Look at the words used by this Joker's father " we do not kill innocent" So it is perfect and acceptable to kill not innocent. So his son killed crusader, not innocent according to Islam!! More and more U see of them, hear of them , U want to puke. They act, behave and talk like people 1500 years ago living in caves. Not changed iota. Very depressing
                  Reply
                  1. T
                    Tats
                    May 29, 2017 at 1:03 pm
                    I feel like puking at your comment. When the father said "We do not kill innocent", it includes the ones killed by his son. The father does not obviously view the victims as "crusaders." And do we not kill the un-innocent? The rapists, murderers etc.? (albeit under law?) But it seems that your blind hate will not even let you see the good in others. I pity you.
                    Reply
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