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Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya

Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya

LEADER: Anas Sebai

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Libya

OVERVIEW

Since 1995, the members of al-Jam'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, or Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), have conducted an ongoing, low-intensity conflict with Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. The LIFG believes that the Qaddafi government is un-Islamic and, therefore, the group is pledged to bring about its demise. The group, also known as the Fighting Islamic Group, the Libyan Islamic Group, and the Libyan Fighting Group, seeks to reach its goals of an Islamic state in Libya through assassination attempts, constant clashes with regime security forces, and alliances with organizations such as al-Qaeda.

HISTORY

The LIFG seeks to turn Libya back to the Islamist state that exercised power in the region since the nineteenth century. Muammar elQaddafi seized power from the government of King Idris in 1969. The king derived his power from the Sanusi Order, whose founder Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi dedicated himself and his followers to energize and spread Islam in light of the European infiltration into Arab lands during the nineteenth century. Sanusi, an Algerian, and the order were banned from Egypt and unable to return to Algeria, which remained under French rule. The order then relocated in Libya, a region marked by tribal conflicts and disparate provinces. Using Islam as their authority, the order mediated disputes among tribes and developed cohesion between the provinces. When the Italians entered Libya in 1911, they were unable to create a stronghold due to the influence of the Sanusi. By the close of World War II, the order had successfully used religion to define the country's politics. The group gained its legitimacy through religion and its role in the resistance of colonialism. However, an emerging middle class (due to the discovery of oil), as well as the absence of an economic program of development, corruption within the power structure, and failure to adequately distribute the wealth from the oil, led to the collapse of the Idris monarch and the Sanusi order in Libya.

In 1969, armed with the knowledge that Libya was unified by and founded on Islam, Muammar Qaddafi sought alliances with the Islamic clergy, called ulama, to legitimize his claim to power. Qaddafi spoke in mosques and consulted with religions leaders in the first years of his rule. Members of the ulama were awarded prominent roles in the education and legal sectors of government.

In 1973, Qaddafi published a new course for Libya and the restructuring of its society in his Green Book. Modeling the Maoist Chinese Cultural Revolution, Qaddafi sought to eradicate the influences held by the traditional institutions, which included religious leaders. His goal was a state based on egalitarianism, socialism, Arabism, and anti-imperialism. Qaddafi, believing that progress in the revolution was hampered by civil liberties and legalities, sought to erode the influence held by clerics. He attacked traditionalists and mosques. The ulama responded by criticizing Qaddafi's actions and the ideas promoted in the Green Book. Qaddafi asserted that his ideas were a more progressive interpretation of Islam. This conflict created religion as the opposition to Qaddafi's regime.

Anyone who dared to speak out against Qaddafi's interpretation of Islam was brutalized. In 1981, the most prominent case of this occurred as Salafi preacher, Muhammad al-Bashti, was tortured and killed by Libyan security forces after voicing opposition. This oppression at home led militants to join the mujahideen (fighters) fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. At the close of that conflict, these Libyans scattered. Some returned home, while others joined with Osama bin Laden in Sudan.

After decades of poor economic development, Qaddafi began to liberalize Libya in the 1990s. During this time, Libyans who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union returned to the dismal economic prospects. In September 1995, fierce fighting erupted between security forces and Islamist guerillas in Benghazi. After weeks of fighting, the LIFG announced its formation and two main goals: The destruction of Qaddafi's regime to be replaced by an Islamic state, and the success of the continued international jihad (holy war).

LEADERSHIP

ANAS SEBAI

LIFG is headed by Anas Sebai, who is also a key figure in al-Qaeda. Omar Rashed serves as the spokesperson for LIFG. He voices the groups disdain for Qaddafi. He also criticizes Israel and voices support for international jihad.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

Much of the LIFG is considered a mystery. The group was founded with the central goal to over-throw Qaddafi's regime and replace it with an Islamist state in Libya. It looks to the tradition of Islam in Libya, including the clerics Qaddafi originally used to legitimize his own government. Beginning as a group of veterans returning from fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the group honed its skills in training camps set up in Sudan by Osama bin Laden to train his own militants. Between 1995 and 1998, the group focused its operations within Libya and against Qaddafi. Using guerilla warfare tactics, the group sought conflicts with the Libyan security forces. After officially declaring itself and its goals in 1995, the group launched a series of attacks on security forces in 1996, including several assassination attempts. The last attempt occurred in August 1998 with an attack on Qaddafi's motorcade. Although all of the assassination attempts have failed, many of the attempts have come quite close to taking Qaddafi's life. Many of the attempts appeared to have assistance from Qaddafi's own security forces. In September and November 1996, two failed military coups also suggested cooperation between military and Islamists. After a 1998 sweep, much of the LIFG was either exiled or imprisoned. By 1999, operations slowed to a low-intensity insurgency. There is still considered to be a clandestine operation within Libya, however, most have left the country to support other Islamic jihad organizations. With their forces weakened within the state, the group began to foster deeper alliances with Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. It vocally supports international jihad and has smuggled weapons into the country to aid in its struggle. The LIFG operates by obtaining funds from private entities and Islamic non-governmental organizations. The group is also suspected as one of several organizations that supplied materials for the May 2003 suicide bombing in Casablanca.

KEY EVENTS

1969:
Qaddafi seized power from the religious leadership of the Sanusi order.
1973:
Qaddafi issues the Green Book and seeks to create a Maoist-modeled state based on egalitarianism, socialism, Arabism, and anti-imperialism.
1980s:
Libyan Islamic militants escape Qaddafi's oppression and fight in Afghanistan.
1994:
First Islamist operative working to topple Qaddafi's government is arrested.
1995:
Weeks of armed clashes between Libyan security forces and Islamists lead to the official declaration of the objectives of the LIFG.
1996:
Failed assassination attempt on Qaddafi leaves several of his bodyguards dead.
1996:
Islamist detainees escape and flee under pursuit by security forces. Fighting between the two groups closes the border with Egypt for several days.
1996:
LIFG kill eight policemen in Derna. Qaddafi's security forces respond with an air and ground attack on LIFG mountain bases.
1996:
LIFG operative throws a grenade at Qaddafi during a visit to the town of Brak. He escapes uninjured.
1997:
LIFG leader, Salah Fathi bin Salman (a.k.a. Abu Abd al-Rahman Hattab), is killed in combat with Libyan security forces.
1998:
Qaddafi's security forces launch sweep of hideouts and bases, apprehending sympathizers and operatives.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

In an article written for the Center for Contemporary Conflict, Christopher Boucek asserts that Islamic opposition to Qaddafi is fragmented and, although it had demonstrated that it can occasionally ally with the military, the groups lacks the strength to topple Qaddafi's regime. Boucek writes, "The strict exclusiveness an Islamic regime may bring would likely run against the fabric of Libyan society." Boucek suggests that Qaddafi himself could bring down his regime because, "30 years of Qaddafi's repressive regime has exhausted much of the public." Qaddafi has made strides to legitimize its government within the international community so that it can obtain economic assistance. By providing post-9/11 intelligence against al-Qaeda, Qaddafi allied with the United States against Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. The United States did not place the LIFG on the terrorist watch-list until 2004 when its ties to al-Qaeda were identified. Former CIA director George Tenet testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that, "one of the most immediate threats is from smaller Sunni extremist groups that have benefited from al-Qaeda links. They include … the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group."

SUMMARY

As one of the few North African countries to repel European expansionism, Libya has a long tradition of Islamic rule. Qaddafi came into power as the result of poorly managed wealth from the discovery of oil and corruption within the government. Initially, he attempted to mobilize the clerics and give them power over the education and legal systems. By 1973, however, he supplanted their power in order to create a new state founded on his interpretation of Islam. His highly repressive activities led to the departure of many militant Islamists, who chose to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Some of those militants would later train with Osama bin Laden in Sudan in preparation for their armed conflict with Qaddafi's forces. By 1995, the LIFG had officially declared itself and its goal to replace Qaddafi's regime with an Islamic state. The group clashed with security forces for several years until a massive sweep in 1998 tapered their activities. The LIFG shifted its focus, then, to aid other militant Islamists, such as al-Qaeda.

PRIMARY SOURCE
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)

DESCRIPTION

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) emerged in the early 1990s among Libyans who had fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and against the Qadhafi regime in Libya. The LIFG declared the Government of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi un-Islamic and pledged to overthrow it. Some members maintain a strictly anti-Qadhafi focus and organize against Libyan Government interests, but others are aligned with Usama Bin Ladin and believed to be part of al-Qa'ida's leadership structure or active in the international terrorist network.

ACTIVITIES

Libyans associated with the LIFG are part of the broader international jihadist movement. The LIFG is one of the groups believed to have planned the Casablanca suicide bombings in May 2003. The LIFG claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt against Qadhafi in 1996 and engaged Libyan security forces in armed clashes during the 1990s. It continues to target Libyan interests and may engage in sporadic clashes with Libyan security forces.

STRENGTH

Not known, but probably has several hundred active members or supporters.

LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION

Probably maintains a clandestine presence in Libya, but since the late 1990s many members have fled to various Asian, Persian Gulf, African, and European countries, particularly the United Kingdom.

EXTERNAL AID

Not known. May obtain some funding through private donations, various Islamic non-governmental organizations, and criminal acts.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

SOURCES

Web sites

American Forces Information Service. "Tenent Briefs Senate on Terror Threats." 〈http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/news/2004/intell-040224-afps01.htm〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

Center for Contemporary Conflicts. "Libya's Return to the Fold?" 〈http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2004/mar/boucekMar04.asp〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

The Jamestown Foundation. "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)." 〈http://www.jamestown.org/publications_details.php?volume_id=411&issue_id=3275&article_id=2369477〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

Middle East Policy Council Journal. "Qadhafi's Libya and the Prospect of Islamic Succession." 〈http://www.mepc.org/public_asp/journal_vol7/0002_takeyh.asp〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

The National Post. "Al-Qaeda Targets Gaddafi." 〈http://209.157.64.200/focus/f-news/1046103/posts〉 (accessed October 18, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database. "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=4400〉 (October 18, 2005).

SEE ALSO

Al-Qaeda

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