I’ve seen two reports — here and here — that ISIS’s head in Libya is none other than Abdelhakim Belhaj. If true, this is the latest turn in the amazing career of a man who perfectly embodies US foreign policy.
He was among the “Afghan Arabs” who fought with the Mujahideen against the Soviets with the financial backing of Saudi Arabia and the United States. Later, he connected with Bin Laden and trained with Al Qaeda, before returning to Libya, where he helped to form — and became emir of — the Libya Islamic Fighters Group. In a recent piece for Jacobin, I touched on the group’s exploits in the nineties.
LIFG tried to kill Muammar Qadhafi three times in 1995–96. British Intelligence sponsored one of the attempts, according to former agent David Shayler. Former French intelligence agents confirmed the claim and said it was this secret that led Britain to thwart the arrest of bin Laden after Qadhafi had issued (and Interpol approved) a warrant in 1998.
But when Libya became a temporary US ally in the “war on terror,” the CIA captured Belhaj and turned him over to Qaddafi — but not before torturing him and his pregnant wife at a black site in Bangkok. Then during the US-backed effort to overthrow Qaddafi in 2011, he emerged as an opposition leader (the Libya Islamic Fighting Group had reconstituted itself as the Libyan Islamic Movement). After the murder of Qaddafi, he was in position of power. Here’s how the New York Times described him in September of 2011.
Now this man is in charge of the military committee responsible for keeping order in Tripoli, and, he says, is a grateful ally of the United States and NATO.
If indeed he’s now with ISIS, it would be a logical development in the US’s love-love-hate-love-hate relationship with this resilient killer. If the United States were sincerely interested in combating “violent extremism,” it would stop funding and arming violent extremists like Belhaj.
But wait there’s more: in 2011, he traveled to Turkey to meet with leaders of the…Free Syrian Army.