Libya: Political Dynamics And Profiles – Analysis


By Christopher M. Blanchard

In recent years, Libya’s political dynamics have been characterized by competition among interest groups seeking to influence policy within the confines of the country’s authoritarian political system and amid Libya’s emergence from international isolation. Economic reforms embraced changes to Libya’s former socialist model to meet current needs, even as political reforms languished amid disputes between hard-line political forces and reform advocates.

In general, the legacies of Italian colonial occupation and Libya’s struggle for independence continue to influence Libyan politics. This is reflected in the celebration of the legacy of the anticolonial figure Omar al Mukhtar during the current uprising. Prior to the recent unrest, rhetorical references to preserving sovereignty and resistance to foreign domination were common in political statements from all parties. Most Libyans also accept a prominent role for Islamic tradition in public life: Islam is the official religion and the Quran is the basis for the country’s law and its “social code.”

Tribal relationships have remained important, particularly with regard to the distribution of leadership roles in government ministries, in some economic relationships between some social groups and families, and in political-military relations. Tribal loyalties reportedly remain strong within and between branches of the armed services, and members of Qadhafi’s tribe, the Qadhafa, have held many high-ranking government positions. Some members of larger tribes, such as the Magariha, Misurata, and the Warfalla, have sought to advance their broad interests through control of official positions of influence and some of their members have opposed the regime on grounds of tribal discrimination. Some Libyan military and security officials staged limited, unsuccessful coup attempts against Qadhafi in 1993 and 1996 based in part on tribal and familial rivalries. Unsuccessful plotters were sentenced to death.

Prior to the current conflict, the Qadhafi government had performed periodic reassignments and purges of the officer corps to limit the likelihood of organized opposition reemerging from within the military. However, these political considerations were largely seen to have affected the military’s preparedness and war fighting capability and in any case appear not to have prevented the defection of some military officers and units. Competition for influence among Libya’s regions characterized the pre-Qadhafi period and some saw the 1969 Qadhafi-led revolution as having been partly facilitated by western and southern Libyan resentments of the Al Sanusi monarchy based in eastern Libyan region of Cyrenaica. Contemporary Libyan politics have not been dominated by overt inter-regional tension, although pro-Qadhafi forces have accused the organizers and leaders of the current opposition as having, inter alia, an eastern regional separatist agenda. The opposition ITNC has denied these accusations. Political parties and all opposition groups are banned in Libya under law number 71 of 1972.

Formal political pluralism has been frowned upon by many members of the ruling elite, even as in the period preceding the unrest some regime figures had advocated for greater popular participation in existing government institutions. The lack of widespread experience in formal political organization, competition, and administration is likely to remain a challenge, regardless of the military outcome.

Qadhafi and the Libyan Government: Muammar al Qadhafi

Muammar al Qadhafi was born in 1942 near the central coastal city of Sirte. His family belongs to one of five branches of the relatively small Qadhafa tribe, and his upbringing was modest. As a young man Qadhafi identified strongly with Arab nationalist and socialist ideologies espoused by leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. Although he was excluded from the elite Cyrenaica Defense Forces on a tribal basis during the Libyan monarchy period, Qadhafi was commissioned as a regular army captain following stints at the Libyan military academy in Benghazi and the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Following his return to Libya, he led the September 1, 1969, overthrow of the Libyan monarchy with a group of fellow officers. He was 27 years old. His subsequent partnerships and disputes with fellow coup plotters have helped define Libya’s political dynamics during his rule and are shaping events during the current unrest.

Qadhafi has proven to be a controversial, complex, and contradictory political survivor during his long reign in Libya, in spite of numerous internal and external challenges to his rule. He has exercised nearly complete, if, at times, indirect political control over Libya over the last 40-plus years by carefully balancing and manipulating complex patronage networks, traditional tribal structures, and byzantine layers of national, regional, and local governance. Libya’s foreign and domestic policies nominally have been based on his personal ideology.

In the past, Qadhafi and his supporters have imposed his theories with realistic purpose and precision, not hesitating to crush coup attempts, assassinate dissidents abroad, or sponsor violent movements and terrorist attacks against Libya’s perceived external enemies. His use of force in response to the 2011 uprising reflects his responses to previous challenges to his continued “guidance.” Opposition forces and citizens of various political orientations and various levels of capability consistently have failed to dislodge Qadhafi over the last forty years, often with terminal results. He remains defiant in the face of coalition military operations and has sought to rally and arm his supporters.

The Qadhafi Family and Prominent Officials: Selected Profiles

Personally, Muammar al Qadhafi often is described as mercurial, charismatic, shrewd, and reclusive. He has been married twice and has eight children: seven sons and one daughter. Qadhafi’s children play various formal and informal roles in Libyan politics, and some are taking active public roles in efforts to crush the ongoing revolt.

  • Sayf al Islam Al Qadhafi.46 The eldest of Qadhafi’s sons from his current marriage, Sayf al Islam was viewed until recently as a strong proponent of political reform in Libya, amid some unverified claims about his involvement in corrupt business practices. During the crisis he has rallied strongly to the defense of the government and his family to the dismay of some of his former international interlocutors, including some in the United States. Images of Sayf al Islam rallying Qadhafi supporters and threatening opposition forces have overshadowed his continuing references to the pursuit of a reform agenda following any resolution of the conflict. Skepticism appears to have replaced hope in the minds of those outside observers who felt that he could emerge as a figure able to lead Libya toward a more open political future. The U.S. government has designated Sayf al Islam pursuant to E.O.13566 and he is named in the targeted sanctions Annex to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970.
  • Mutassim Al Qadhafi. Qadhafi’s fifth eldest son, the 33-year old Mutassim Al Qadhafi is a former military officer and serves as National Security Advisor to his father. He visited the United States in late-2009 for consultations with Obama Administration officials, including Secretary of State Clinton, with whom he appeared publicly. He reportedly has engaged in competition with his brothers and other regime figures for influence within Qadhafi’s inner circle. The U.S. government has designated him pursuant to E.O.13566 and he is named in the targeted sanctions Annex to Resolution 1970.
  • Khamis Al Qadhafi. Qadhafi’s sixth eldest son, Khamis al Qadhafi commands an elite military unit known as the 32nd Brigade that often bears his name in press reporting. The unit is rumored to have been on the front line of pro-Qadhafi forces counterattacks against opposition held areas. The U.S. government has designated him pursuant to E.O.13566 and he is named in the targeted sanctions Annex to Resolution 1970.

Former intelligence chief and current Foreign Minister Musa Kusa has remained supportive of Qadhafi during the crisis, as have National Oil Company chairman Shoukri Ghanem and Prime Minister Al Baghdadi al Mahmoudi. Kusa is designated pursuant to Executive Order 13566. The status of some members of Qadhafi’s security establishment and founding members of the Revolution Command Council that overthrew the monarchy is unclear. Some are reported to be under house arrest or to have fled Tripoli, including Military Intelligence and External Security Organization director Abdullah Al Sanusi, General Mustafa al Kharrubi, and Defense Minister General Abu Bakr Younis Jaber.

Opposition Groups

Prior to the 2011 uprising, Libya’s opposition movements were often categorized broadly as Islamist, royalist, or secular nationalist in orientation. Their activities and effectiveness had been largely limited by disorganization, rivalry, and ideological differences. New efforts to coordinate opposition activities had begun in response to Libya’s reintegration to the international community and the emergence of a broader political reform debate in the Arab world, and gained momentum with the outbreak of region-wide protests and political change in late 2010 and early 2011.

The infusion of popular support and regime defectors to the general opposition cause inside Libya was welcomed by many established opposition groups, even if the specific political demands of newly active opposition supporters and their compatibility with the agendas of the established groups were not clear.

Key current questions for U.S. policymakers include determining the identities and backgrounds of various opposition leaders and groups, assessing the capabilities of armed opposition supporters, and determining the intentions, goals, and legitimacy of opposition elements. On March 28, U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney stated his view that “the opposition is not well organized, and it is not a very robust organization.” He further indicated that the United States “would like a much better understanding of the opposition,” and that U.S. officials are “trying to fill in” what he characterized as “knowledge gaps.”

Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC)

Opposition groups have formed an Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) that is seeking international recognition as the representative of the Libyan people from its base in Benghazi.47

The full extent of the group’s domestic political legitimacy and authority are unclear, although its stated aspirations and appeals are addressed to all Libyans and its claims have been endorsed by some Libyans abroad, including opposition groups in Europe and the United States. Domestically, the ITNC claims that local and regional citizen councils formed in the wake of the uprising have endorsed it, and the group’s website features reports and videos of some communities recognizing the council. Overseas, the ITNC has endorsed former Libyan diplomats willing to join the opposition cause. In the United States, former Ambassador to the United Nations and Foreign Minister Abd al Rahman Shalgam and former Ambassador to Washington Ali Aujali have represented the ITNC in meetings with Administration officials and Congress.

Public reports suggest that a military council has been formed to support the ITNC’s efforts. Its full make-up is not publicly known, although some prominent figures who have defected from the security forces apparently are members.48 ITNC representatives have been vague about their relationships to leading defectors and the role of military forces in the opposition’s efforts to date.

Rebel advances westward toward central Libya do not appear to have featured regular military units, and regular units have not been prominent in international media coverage of opposition forces’ retreat eastward in the face of an ongoing counterattacks by pro-Qadhafi forces. ITNC leaders continue to call for the establishment of a no-fly zone and publicly reject direct military intervention by foreign ground forces.

In a March 10 interview with a Spanish newspaper, ITNC chairman Mustafa Abdeljalil outlined the Council’s plans for a post-Qadhafi political arrangement as follows:

As soon as the regime falls, we will have six or seven months to call elections. Until then, we will respect all international agreements. After the elections, everything will be left in the hands of the new leaders. We will leave. None of the current members of the Council will run in the elections. Libya is in need of new faces and there will be no room for officials from the old regime. Our basic text is the 1951 Constitution to which we are of course introducing changes.49

A Council statement released on March 22 states:

The Interim National Council is committed to the ultimate goal of the revolution; namely to build a constitutional democratic civil state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and the guarantee of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens including full political participations by all citizens and equal opportunities between men and women and the promotion of women empowerment. The Interim national council will vow to encourage a state where its people enjoy the right to live in safety and security and within an environment of stability.

Libya will become a state which respects universal core values that are embedded in the rich cultural diversities around the globe which includes justice, freedom, human rights, and nonviolence.

A state that is responsive to its citizen’s needs, delivers basic services effectively, and creates an enabling environment for a thriving private sector in an open economy to other markets around the world.

The Interim National Council reaffirms that Libya’s foreign policy will be based on both mutual respect and common interests. Libya will be a state that fully respects the International law and International declarations on human rights and one which will participate in international relations responsibly, constructively and with good faith.

Prominent ITNC and Opposition Figures50

  • Mustafa Abdeljalil Fadl. Serves as Chairman of the Interim Transitional National Council. He served as Libya’s Justice Minister from 2007 through the onset of the uprising. He is known for having been supportive of some reform initiatives advanced by Sayf al Islam al Qadhafi and for challenging Muammar al Qadhafi and his supporters regarding due process and incarceration of prisoners in some prominent legal cases during 2009 and 2010. He attempted to resign from his position in early 2010.51 He is a native of Bayda, where he once served as chief judge. He is 59 years old. In February, Abdeljalil claimed to have evidence that Qadhafi ordered the terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103. Libyan State Television carried a report on March 9 from the government General Bureau for Criminal Investigation offering, “A reward of half a million Libyan dinars [about $400,000] …to whoever captures the spying agent called Mustafa Muhammad Abdeljalil Fadl and turns him in.”
  • Mahmoud Jibril Ibrahim Al Warfali. Serves as a foreign affairs representative for the Council and some reports suggest he has taken a leadership role in a new executive body attached to the Council. He travelled to Europe via Cairo, Egypt, the week of March 7 and has worked to secure recognition of the ITNC in meetings with European and U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Clinton. He is 59 years old, and studied political science in the United States at the University of Pittsburgh. He was serving as Libya’s ambassador to India and resigned when the uprising began. He formerly served as head of the Libyan National Planning Council and chairman of the National Economic Development Board (NEDB).
  • Ali Al Issawi. Serves as a foreign affairs representative for the Council. He was born in Benghazi and is 45 years old. He served as Minister of Economy, Trade, and Investment from 2007 to 2009.
  • Fathi Terbil. Serves as the youth representative to the Council. He is a legal advocate from Benghazi who represented some families of victims of the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which Libyan security forces are alleged to have murdered over 1,000 prisoners to put down an uprising. His arrest and release on February 15, 2011 sparked an initial series of protests and confrontations that eventually fueled the broader uprising. In subsequent interviews, he has claimed that he was arrested five times prior to the recent unrest and has been tortured by Libyan security forces.
  • Abdel Hafez Ghoga. Serves as Vice-Chairman and spokesman for the Council. He is described in the Libyan press as a “human rights lawyer and community organizer.” Reports suggest that Ghoga had been working to organize a national transitional council at the same time as Mustafa Abdeljalil and others were working to form the ITNC. The two figures reportedly agreed to cooperate.
  • Dr. Salwa Fawzi al Deghali. Serves as the Council representative for women. She is a lawyer and a native of Benghazi. She described her view of the challenges facing the opposition in a March 11 interview with an Egyptian newspaper: “We have never had any real organizational experience in Libya, through parties or independent professional associations. Suddenly, we have an entire city to run.”52
  • Ahmed al Zubayr al Sanusi. Serves as a Council member. He is known as “Libya’s longest-serving ‘prisoner of conscience’” because he was jailed on accusations of plotting a coup in 1970 and not released until 2001. He is a relative of former King Idris.

Opposition Military Forces

Public reports suggest that a military council has been formed to support the ITNC’s efforts. Its full make-up is not publicly known, although some prominent figures who have defected from the security forces apparently are members. ITNC representatives have been vague about their relationships to key security officers who have defected.

The role of former government military forces in the opposition’s efforts to date has been unclear. Regular military forces that have defected to the opposition cause have not been consistently visible in leadership roles in operations thus far, although some media reports suggest that some officers are providing guidance and training to the lightly armed and predominantly young volunteers who appear to make up the core of the opposition forces. Coordination among these different elements is not apparent. One Libya-based reporter’s current account describes the opposition forces as follows:

“The hard core of the fighters has been the shabab—the young people whose protests in mid-February sparked the uprising. They range from street toughs to university students (many in computer science, engineering, or medicine), and have been joined by unemployed hipsters and middle-aged mechanics, merchants, and storekeepers. There is a contingent of workers for foreign companies: oil and maritime engineers, construction supervisors, translators. There are former soldiers, their gunstocks painted red, green, and black—the suddenly ubiquitous colors of the pre-Qaddafi Libyan flag. And there are a few bearded religious men, more disciplined than the others, who appear intent on fighting at the dangerous tip of the advancing lines. … With professional training and leadership (presumably from abroad), the rebels may eventually turn into something like a proper army. But, for now, they have perhaps only a thousand trained fighters, and are woefully outgunned.”53

Key opposition military and security figures reportedly include:

  • Omar al Hariri. Serves as the military affairs representative on the ITNC. Hariri participated in 1969 anti-monarchy coup alongside Qadhafi, but later was imprisoned and sentenced to death on suspicion of plotting an uprising in 1975. He was moved to Tobruk and placed under house arrest in 1990. He is 67 years old. He has been quoted as calling for “a multi-party system” in the event that Qadhafi is deposed.
  • Abdelfattah Younis al Ubaydi. Participated in the 1969 anti-monarchy coup alongside Qadhafi. He had been serving as Minister for Public Security and a Special Forces commander, which put him in charge of some internal security forces through the start of the uprising. His resignation and defection came just hours after Muammar al Qadhafi specifically named him as one of his key supporters in a February 22 speech. Human rights concerns prior to and potentially during the beginning of the unrest could have involved forces under his command. His relationship to the ITNC military council is unclear. Some reports suggest he has an unspecified leadership role, and he has been an outspoken advocate for the opposition cause in interviews with international media outlets.
  • Colonel Khalifah Belqasim Haftar. A veteran of the ill-fated Libyan invasion of Chad during the 1980s, he turned against Qadhafi. Colonel Haftar recently returned to Libya from exile—some reports suggest from the United States—to support the current uprising.54 In the past, Haftar has been mentioned as a leader of the Libyan Movement for Change and Reform and the Libyan National Army, an armed opposition group reported to have received support from foreign intelligence agencies and alleged to have been involved in past attempts to overthrow Qadhafi.55 Press reports suggest Haftar is now contributing to opposition training efforts.
  • Major Abdelmoneim Al Huni. An original member of the Revolution Command Council, Al Huni had been serving as Libya’s representative to the Arab League and resigned in protest of the use of force against protestors.Regional press accounts from the 1990s describe Al Huni as having coordinated with the opposition efforts of Colonel Haftar and others, before Al Huni reconciled with Qadhafi in 2006.

Exiles and Al Sanusi Monarchy Figures

Complex relationships among former regime figures, competing heirs to the former monarchy, and longstanding opposition leaders may evolve as the conflict unfolds and if specific arrangements begin to be made for reconciliation and/or a new government.

Opposition groups in exile have included the National Alliance, the Libyan National Movement (LNM), the Libyan Movement for Change and Reform, the Islamist Rally, the National Libyan Salvation Front (NLSF), and the Republican Rally for Democracy and Justice. These groups and others held an opposition conference—known as the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO)—in July 2005 in London and issued a “national accord,” calling for the removal of Qadhafi from power and the establishment of a transitional government.56 A follow-up meeting was held in March 2008.57 The NCLO reportedly helped lead the call for the February 17, 2011, “day of rage” that helped catalyze protests into a full-blown uprising against the Qadhafi regime.

A royalist contingent based on the widely recognized claim to the leadership of the royal family by Mohammed al Rida al Sanusi, the son of the former crown prince, has been based in London.58

On March 2, he answered a newspaper interviewer’s question about his intent with regard to pursuing the restoration of the Al Sanusi monarchy by saying, “It is too early to answer such questions. This will all be revealed in time.”59 His claim is disputed by a distant relative, whose family members also have given interviews to international media outlets.

In a September 2005 interview, then-Foreign Minister Abd al Rahman Shalgam characterized some of the regime’s expatriate opponents as individuals who fled the country after committing economic crimes or collaborating with foreign intelligence services. He then invited any expatriate dissidents who had not committed crimes to return to Libya.60 Shalgam has now joined the opposition movement and is speaking as a representative of the ITNC in Washington, DC and at the United Nations in New York.

The Muslim Brotherhood

A statement attributed to the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood in late February 2011 welcomed the formation of the ITNC but called for a future, non-tribal government to “be formed by those who actually led the revolution on the ground” and to exclude supporters of the original Qadhafi coup or officials involved in human rights violations.61 This would seem to implicate some original Qadhafi allies and security officials who have defected to the opposition cause. In the past, the controller general of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, Suleiman Abdel Qadir, has described the Brotherhood’s objectives as peaceful and policy-focused, and has long called for the cancellation of laws restricting political rights.62

Like other political organizations and opposition groups, the Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Libya under law number 71 of 1972. Since the late 1940s, when members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood first entered Libya following a crackdown on their activities, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood has existed as a semi-official organization. Hundreds of Brotherhood members and activists were jailed in 1973, although the Brotherhood eventually reemerged and operated as a clandestine organization for much of the following two decades. In 1998, a second round of mass arrests took place, and 152 Brotherhood leaders and members were arrested.

Several reportedly died in custody, and, following trials in 2001 and 2002, two prominent Brotherhood leaders were sentenced to death and over 70 were sentenced to life in prison. The government announced a retrial for the imprisoned Brotherhood activists in October 2005, and in March 2006, the group’s 84 remaining imprisoned members were released.63

Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)/Libyan Islamic Movement for Change (LIMC)

Prior to the 2011 uprising that began in eastern Libya, some reports examined whether the region was a stronghold for Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members and other extremist groups that might pose a threat to Libya’s security and potentially to regional security.64 Some Members of Congress have expressed concern that violent Islamists may seek to exploit the conflict in Libya or any post-conflict transition. On March 29, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe U.S. Admiral James Stavridis said in Senate testimony that, at present, he does not have “detail sufficient to say that — that there’s a significant Al Qaida presence or any other terrorist presence in and among” the Libyan opposition.65 The full effect of the ongoing unrest on the views, positions, and activities of former-LIFG personnel and other potentially armed Islamist groups has not yet been determined, although some former LIFG members appear to be providing security in opposition held areas and engaging in fighting against pro-Qadhafi forces.

The LIFG is a violent Islamist movement opposed to the Qadhafi government. In recent years, its then-imprisoned leaders engaged in a dialogue and reconciliation process with the Qadhafi Foundation, and over 200 LIFG members were released, including senior leaders and former commanders.66 Qadhafi announced the release of the final 110 “reconciled” LIFG members at the outset of the 2011 uprising. Some Libya-based members of the LIFG responded to the release of leading figures on February 16 by announcing the reorganization of the group as the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change (LIMC). The LIMC demands political change and an end to corruption, and has underscored its decision to “enter a new stage of struggle in which we do not adopt an armed program but a belief in the Libyan people’s ability to bring about the change to which we are aspiring.”67 Muammar al Qadhafi has both blamed Al Qaeda and violent Islamists for instigating the uprising, and, on March 15, he threatened to join them if the United States or European countries intervene militarily in the conflict.68

In spite of these developments, Libyan government officials claim that some LIFG members previously released as part of the government-approved reconciliation process participated in violence at the beginning of the recent uprising and the government has accused some individuals of seeking to establish “Islamic emirates” in eastern Libya.69 Some opposition figures have decried the government accusations as scare tactics. One such former LIFG figure, Abdelhakim Al Hasadi, is leading ad hoc security arrangements in the eastern city of Darnah, which was home to several dozen Libyan recruits who travelled to Iraq to fight U.S. and coalition forces.70 Al Hasadi claims to have recruited Libyans to fight in Iraq, but has publicly denied accusations he is affiliated with Al Qaeda or is seeking to establish Islamist rule in Darnah or on a national basis.71

Al Qaeda Affiliation and Recantations

In 2009, some of the LIFG’s imprisoned leaders issued a lengthy series of writings, referred to as “the recantations,” outlining their rejection of the use of violence (see below). However, Libyan and U.S. concerns about LIFG’s domestic and international activities persisted. According to the Department of State, the LIFG has attempted to assassinate Qadhafi, most recently in 1996, and may have participated in the planning of the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco.72

The group’s reported ties with Al Qaeda came under scrutiny in July 2009 after group members based in Britain reportedly renounced the group’s affiliation with Al Qaeda, and contrasted the LIFG with others who use indiscriminate bombing and target civilians. In November 2007, Al Qaeda figures Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Layth al Libi announced the merger of the LIFG with Al Qaeda, which many terrorism analysts viewed at the time as having political rather than operational relevance.73 Abu Layth Al Libi was killed in an air strike in Pakistan in February 2008. The February 2011 LIFG release by Libyan authorities reportedly included Abdelwahhab Muhammad Qayid, who has been identified in some sources as the brother of prominent Al Qaeda ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi. In March 2011, Abu Yahya Al Libi released a video condemning Qadhafi and calling on Libyans to use arms against Qadhafi supporters, but to refrain from violence or criminality against each other.

In a July 2009 statement, LIFG members in Britain characterized the November 2007 Al Qaeda affiliation announcement from the late Abu Layth Al Libi as “a personal decision that is at variance with the basic status of the group,” and sought to “clearly emphasize that the group is not, has never been, and will never be, linked to the Al Qaeda organization.”74 The statement stressed that LIFG members abroad supported “the dialogue underway between the group’s leadership and the Libyan regime if it should lead to an end to bloodletting, the release of prisoners, the spreading of security and justice, the reunion of families, and to permitting preaching, educational, and political activities.” The statement warned that the group would “preserve [its] lawful and natural right to oppose the regime if it does not turn its back on its previous policy that has led to tension and deadlock.” In 2009, the government and the LIFG reached an agreement in which LIFG leaders renounced violence against the Libyan state, and, later in 2009, the dialogue resulted in the issuance of written “recantations” of the LIFG’s former views on religion and violence.75 In October 2009, over 40 LIFG prisoners were released, alongside other Islamists.

The United States froze the LIFG’s U.S. assets under Executive Order 13224 in September 2001, and formally designated the LIFG as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2004. In February 2006, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated five individuals and four entities in the United Kingdom as Specially Designated Global Terrorists for their role in supporting the LIFG.76 On October 30, 2008, Treasury designated three more LIFG financiers.77 Some observers characterized the designations as a U.S. gesture of solidarity with the Libyan government and argued that the ability and willingness of the LIFG to mount terror attacks in Libya may have been limited. Others claimed that some LIFG fighters were allied with other violent Islamist groups operating in the trans-Sahara region, and cited evidence of Libyan fighters joining the Iraqi insurgency as an indication of ongoing Islamist militancy in Libya and a harbinger of a possible increase in violence associated with fighters returning from Iraq.78


Christopher M. Blanchard
Acting Section Research Manager

This article is an edited, shorter section of the March 29, 2011 Congressional Research Service Report, Libya: Unrest and U.S. Policy (PDF)

46 For a detailed profile of Sayf al Islam al Qadhafi and an example of the pre-uprising discussion about the possibility of his succeeding his father, see Yehudit Ronen, “Libya’s Rising Star: Said Al-Islam and Succession,” Middle East Policy, Vol. XII, No. 3, Fall 2005, pp. 136-44.
47 Limited, basic information from the ITNC can be found on its website,
48 On March 10 and 11, INTC representatives deflected press questions about the military council and indicated its makeup and plans were “secret” in spite of previous public reports on its makeup. On March 2, London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat published the following list of the makeup of the military council: “Military Police: Brigadier General Yusuf Lusayfir; Military Intelligence:Col. Hasan Faraj al-Majrisi; Air Force: Brig. Gen. Miftah Fannush; Air Defense: Col. Muhammad Hammad al-Kazzah; Electronic Communications and Support: Col.
Izz-al-Din al-Isawi; Naval Forces: Capt. Faraj al-Mahdawi; Special Forces: Col. Wanis Bukhamadah; Vehicles and Technical Affairs: Col. Engineer Najib I’maysh; Supplies and Provisions: Col. Fathi al-Mismari; Missiles: Col. Muhammad Abd-al-Qadir Salih; Infantry Units: Col. Tariq al-Darsi; Public Security: Brig. Gen. Ashur Shawayil;
Military Prosecution: Col. Salih al-Bishari; and Military Judiciary: Col Al-Amin Abd-al-Wahhab.” See OSC Report
GMP20110302825014, “Report Names Members of Benghazi’s Military Council,” March 2, 2011.
49 OSC Report EUP20110311178003, “Libyan Rebel Leader Accuses EU of Worrying More About Oil Than Libyans’ Lives” March 10, 2011.
50 This section reflects material found in David Gritten, “Key figures in Libya’s rebel council,” BBC News, March 10, 2011 and is supplemented with information derived from other international media and academic sources. Public profile information remains incomplete or limited for many leading opposition figures and regime defectors.
51 OSC Report GMP20100128950040, “Libyan Minister of Justice Resigns Over ‘Harsh’ Criticism in People’s Congress,” January 28, 2010.
52 OSC Report GMP20110311966049, “Benghazi’s lawyers, Libya’s revolutionaries,” March 11, 2011.
53 Jon Lee Anderson, “Who are the Rebels?” The New Yorker, April 4, 2011.
54 Chris Adams, “Libyan rebel leader spent much of past 20 years in suburban Virginia,” McClatchy Newspapers, March 26, 2011.
55 OSC Report FTS19960821000373, “U.S.-Based Oppositionist Has ‘Secret Meetings’ Near Tripoli,” August 21, 1996.
56 May Youssef, “Anti-Gaddafists Rally in London,” Al Ahram Weekly (Cairo), No. 749, June 30 – July 6, 2005; Al Jazeera (Doha), “Opposition Plans to Oust Al Qadhafi,” June 25, 2005; Middle East Mirror, “Libya’s Fractured Opposition,” July 29, 2005.
57 “Libyan Opposition Groups Meet in London To Reiterate Commitment To Save Libya,” OSC Report GMP20080329825012, March 29, 2008.
58 Immediately prior to his departure for medical treatment in August 1969, the late King Idris signaled his intent to abdicate and pass authority to his crown prince and nephew, Hasan al Rida al Mahdi al Sanusi. Crown Prince Hasan was serving as regent during the Qadhafi coup, and he and his family were imprisoned and placed under house arrest until being allowed to leave Libya in the late 1980s. Each of King Idris’s potential direct heirs died as children. Upon Prince Hasan’s death in 1992, he passed the title of head of the Al Sanusi royal house to his son, Prince Mohammed al Rida al Sanusi.
59 OSC Report GMP20110302869002, “Former Libyan Crown Prince Says 2,000 Die in Anti-al-Qadhafi Revolt,” March 2, 2011.
60 “Libya’s Shalgam on Ties With US, S. Arabia, Opposition,” OSC Report GMP20050924512001, September 24, 2005.
61 OSC Report GMP20110228405001, “Libyan Muslim Brotherhood Group Supports ‘Glorious Revolution,’” February 28, 2011.
62 In 2007, Abdel Qadir responded to political reform statements by Sayf al Islam al Qadhafi with calls for more inclusive, consultative decision making. In a November 2008 interview, Abdel Qadir noted that reform outreach was taking place under the auspices of the Qadhafi Foundation and not through official state organs, which in his view undermined the significance of the outreach. He also repeated calls for reform and reconciliation aimed at creating a constitution and protecting civil rights for Libyans. See OSC Report GMP20050803550006, “Al Jazirah TV Interviews Libyan Muslim Brotherhood Leader on Current Situation,” August 3, 2005; OSC Report GMP20070830282001,
“Libyan MB Concerned Over Sayf al-Islam’s Statements Regarding New Constitution,” August 30, 2007; and, OSC Report GMP20081111635001, “Libyan Muslim Brotherhood Official on Libya’s Foreign, Domestic Politics,” November 10, 2008.
63 Afaf El Geblawi, “Libya Frees All Jailed Muslim Brotherhood Members,” Agence France Presse, March 3, 2006.
64 Peraino, “Destination Martyrdom,” Newsweek, April 19, 2008.
65 Testimony of Admiral James Stavridis before the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 29, 2011.
66 Prominent prisoners released under the auspices of the reconciliation program include former LIFG leader Abdelhakim al Khuwaylidi Belhadj, former military director Khaled Sharif, and leading LIFG ideologue Sami Sa’idi. OSC Report GMP20100323950045, “Three leaders of Libyan Fighting Group freed – paper,” March 23, 2010.
67 OSC Report GMP20110217825017, “Libya: IFG Elements Establish New Group Aiming for Peaceful Regime Change,” February 17, 2011.
68 OSC Report EUP20110315058001, “’Exclusive’ Interview With Al-Qadhafi on Insurgency, Western Ties, US, Al-Qa’ida,” March 15, 2011.
69 Libyan authorities specifically named Abdelkarim Ahsadi, Khayrallah Barasi, Mohamed Darnawi, and Abou Sofian Ben Guemou, a former U.S. detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who Libyan officials released in September 2010.
Libyan government claims have not been independently verified. OSC Report GMP20110223950040, “Senior Libyan Security Official Gives Details on Unrest in Benghazi Tripoli,” February 22, 2011.
70 Kevin Peraino, “Destination Martyrdom,” Newsweek, April 19, 2008.
71 Al Hasadi appeared on Al Jazeera and read a statement denying the Libyan government’s accusations. See OSC
Report GMP20110225648002, “Libya: Former LIFG Leader Denies Plan To Establish ‘Islamic Emirate’ in Darnah,” February 25, 2011; and, OSC Report EUP20110322025008, “Libya: Rebel Leader in Derna Denies Local Presence of Extremists, Al-Qa’ida,” March 22, 2011.
72 U.S. Department of State, “Libya,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2004, April 2005.
73 “Al-Zawahiri, Al-Libi: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Joins Al-Qa’ida,” OSC Report – FEA20071104393586, November 3, 2007.
74 “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Abroad Issues Statement Supporting Regime Dialogue.” OSC Report –
GMP20090703825003, July 3, 2009.
75 “Report on ‘Seething Anger’ in Libya Over Dismantling Al Qa’ida-Linked Cells,” OSC Report GMP20080630825001 June 30, 2008; “Libya: Jailed Islamic Group Leaders ‘Preparing’ To Renounce Armed Violence,” OSC Report GMP20080706837002, July 6, 2008; “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Source Announces Ideology Revision Nearly Complete,” OSC Report GMP20090615825012, June 15, 2009; and OSC Reports, GMP20090911452001, GMP20090911452002, GMP2009091145200, GMP20090910488004, GMP20090911452004,
GMP20090915452001, “Libyan Newspaper Publishes Libyan Fighting Group Retractions,” September 2009.
76 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates UK-Based Individuals, Entities Financing Al Qaida-
Affiliated LIFG,” JS-4016, February 8, 2006.
77 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Three LIFG Members Designation for Terrorism,” HP-1244, October 30, 2008.
78 Alison Pargeter, “Militant Groups


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