Will the uprising in Libya turn the country into the terrorist Disneyland? Let’s consider some musings from think tanks in the U.S. and Europe.
In an article for The Jamestown Foundation, journalist Camille Tawil concluded that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group affiliated with Osama bin Laden, has “failed in its attempts to expand its theater of operations to the rest of the Arab countries that make up the Maghreb, a region that consists of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.”
Her full report, “The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb: Expansion in the Sahel and Challenges from Within Jihadist Circles,” was published in April 2010. A lot has happened in the last year, though.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a research fellow at the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, tries to update the situation in the April 18 report “Western Jihadi Interpretations of Libyan Uprisings.”
He writes: “Despite being initially sluggish and incoherent, al-Qaeda’s response to the Arab Spring is now taking shape.
Senior leadership figures, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Libyan born Abu Yahya al-Libi, as well as a many lesser known Salafi-jihadi ideologues, have given a number of sermons concentrating almost solely on Libya and portraying it as the most fertile ground for their global movement.
Their Western followers are making a similar case on Salafi-jihadi internet forums.” According to Meleagrou-Hitchens, even the Arab street finds these claims unconvincing. He sees little hard evidence of a prominent place for Islamist groups in the forces fighting the regime.
On the other hand, there are increasing calls in Internet chat rooms for foreign fighters to take their cause to Libya, Meleagrou-Hitchens notes.
As reported previously on Beltway Confidential, “Having set up a pipeline to bring fighters out of Libya, al Qaeda affiliates may well attempt to reverse the flow and bring fighters into the country. It would take time, of course. And such a maneuver may not become apparent for weeks or even months after it begins.”
It’s increasingly apparent that the war in Libya will likely drag on for some time, and so a new wave of terrorism in North Africa has to be an increasing concern.
Though the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council has pledged to keep its ranks “terrorist free,” that proclamation may not mean much if the group lacks the capacity to govern and provide security for the areas under its control.
Worse, we can expect a continuing and unending stream of disinformation from Tripoli attempting to portray all the rebels as terrorists. Disneyland or no, the ride may be just beginning.