Libyan militants return from Iraq and Syria to fight ex-general Haftar

Published July 16th, 2014 - 07:16 GMT

Libyan jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq are returning home to fight the breakaway militia led by Khalifa Haftar, who has recently emerged as a serious threat to the country’s Islamists, security and military sources toldAsharq Al-Awsat.

The revelation came after former Libyan officials expressed fears of an expected Islamist onslaught in a bid to take over the capital, Tripoli.

“Islamists have decided to bring the Libyan jihadists they had sent to Syria and Iraq in order to control Tripoli on [Thursday], particularly after they lost in the parliamentary elections,” a security source, who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said.

Among the forces expected to take part in the attack are the Brotherhood-affiliated Libya Shield militias—a group of militias based in the city of Misrata—the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia and foreign jihadists who came to Libya after the 2011 revolution.

“It is a dangerous situation,” an aide to the former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity. “Both sides [Islamists and Haftar] seem to be preparing for a battle which may continue for a long time.”

It also follows reports that the notorious Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar had moved his base of operations from Mali to the southern Libya earlier this year.

“[Belmokhtar] is commanding [Islamist militias] in the border triangle near Chad and Algeria,” another security source toldAsharq Al-Awsat, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Tensions between Haftar and Islamists began in February, when the renegade ex-army officer attempted to organize a coup against Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood-controlled transitional government, pledging to crackdown on Islamists.

Haftar’s 6,000-strong Libyan National Army stormed the Tripoli-based parliament in May, in the wake of clashes between his forces and Islamist militias in Benghazi.

The same source said Haftar’s Libyan National Army had recruited and trained thousands of young volunteers, in addition to existing followers from Libya’s nascent military, which have allowed him to take control of a number of military bases, field military helicopters and aircraft in his campaign against Islamists.

In response, Islamist militias are bolstering their ranks by recalling the fighters they have sent to Iraq and Syria in the past months, the source claimed.

Meanwhile, Haftar’s supporters are tightening their chokehold on Benghazi, leading to a growing state of alarm in the city, a stronghold for a number of Islamist militias.

Amid the continuing violence in the country, another focal point of political power also appears to be forming in the shape of Libya’s tribes. Almost 2,000 tribal leaders met in a conference in the town of Warshefana, south of Tripoli, on Tuesday.

This stands in contrast to the immediate aftermath of the downfall of Libya’s late dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, when the country’s tribal leaders were marginalized because, for the most part, they remained on the sidelines of the uprising.

“I feel Libya, indeed, has no other solution apart from the umbrella of the tribe,” the prominent Tunisian activist Sophia Al-Hamami, who attended the meeting, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

She said: “A tribe is like a social contract. It is different from Tunisia, where the social contract has been signed by [political] parties, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the government, and the presidency, among others.”

According to senior Libyan security sources who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, Haftar has been coordinating with the tribes since the start of the year in a bid to build a united front against Islamists.

Haftar seems to have realized that he cannot fight Islamists without the help of the tribes, and a deal for their assistance is believed to have been brokered by former Libyan officials in exile, the source said.

By Abdul Sattar Hatita

 

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