The Disappearing, Reappearing Terrorist

8th October 2013

The Pentagon's predictable response to the attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi has been a pair of special forces raids in Africa.  One was a Navy Seal strike in the Somali town of Barawe that sought to capture or kill Al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, though this mission failed.  The other operation took place in Tripoli where Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known as Anas Al Liby, was captured by commandos presumed to be Delta Force.  There are many reasons to question these stories, not least of which that Al Liby has reportedly been captured and in custody for decade.  

I first wrote about Al Liby 5 years ago looking at him as a probable MI6-aided Islamist.  He was Al Qaeda's 'computer expert' who in the early 1990s travelled around Africa scouting possible terror targets for Osama Bin Laden.  He was trained and accompanied by CIA triple agent Ali Mohamed and according to court testimony even helped take reconnaissance photographs for what would become the 1998 African embassy attacks.  As a result US authorities have been trying to get hold of him for nearly 15 years.  

Meanwhile, in the early-mid 1990s he joined LIFG, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group also known as Al Muqatila.  The group were trying to kill or overthrow Col. Gaddafi, a feat they finally accomplished in 2011 with the assistance of NATO.  According to 'former' MI5 'whistleblower' David Shayler, MI6 had funded an attempt on Gaddafi's life by LIFG in early 1996, an attempt that failed.  LIFG members fled Libya in the wake of the failed assassination attempt, setting up shop in the UK, including Anas Al Liby.  They published their newsletter from an office in London and for years after the embassy bombings lived in the UK freely.  

That changed with set of police raids on addresses in Manchester in May 2000.  According to an old Observer report Al Liby evaded capture, though the Guardian is now adding the detail that he was questioned by British police in 1999 but not charged.  The article also notes how, 'Liby's skill in surveillance and special operations made him irreplaceable, Benotman said. Liby had been trained by an Egyptian-American jihadi fighter who had served with the US Green Berets.'  Of course, they do not mention that this Egyptian-American jihadi was also a CIA agent and FBI informant, and that his name is Ali Mohamed.  

After the raids Al Liby left the UK, and following the 9/11 attacks LIFG were proscribed (banned) as an organisation by the UN and the US State Department, and then by UK authorities in 2005.  Al Liby himself was put on the FBI's most wanted list where he stayed until a few days ago when he was captured outside his home in Tripoli.  The websites of the FBI and the State Department still list him as wanted and at large - I suppose it takes a few days to remember to update these things.  

Making the whole story weirder is that as my prior article details, Al Liby was reported captured in 2002, though the reports contradicted each other on when he was captured (January, February or March) and where (Egypt, Sudan or Afghanistan).  An Amnesty International document from 2006 lists Al Liby as one of several 'Individuals about whom there is some evidence of secret detention by the United States and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown', detailing his reported capture in Sudan in February 2002.  The report also spells one of Al Liby's aliases quite differently to recent media coverage - Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Raghie vs Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, further complicating matters for researchers.  

Exactly what will happen to Al Liby now is unclear.  Given that his alleged crimes - involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings plot - took place prior to the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act, it probably isn't legal to try Al Liby via a military commission.  He had no role in 9/11, and whether he was still a member of LIFG when they reportedly joined forces with Al Qaeda in late 2007 is not known.  As such, he should be tried in a conventional criminal court with all the due process and protections of any ordinary alleged criminal.

Of course, he is a 'terrorist' and also quite probably an MI6 asset for at least part of his terrorist career, so his chances of an open court trial are pretty low.  Furthermore, the US authorities don't want to open up the can of worms that is the West's curiously flexible relationship with LIFG.  In the mid-late 1990s they were our friends as we tried to oust Gaddafi.  After 9/11 they were the enemy, though when Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa handed over a list of LIFG members living in London nothing was done.  As Britain cosied up to Gaddafi they also added LIFG to their list of banned terror groups, in exchange for Libya playing a role in the torture of 'terror suspects'.  Then something changed, Gaddafi was the enemy again and LIFG were among the jihadis that NATO used to get rid of him.  

What these two raids represent is an attempt to reconstruct the 'war on terror' narrative once again in the wake of the failure of those who wanted to see NATO invade Syria.  After 9/11 the predominant narrative was that there was a global paramilitary Islamist network protected by the governments of nations like Afghanistan and Iraq.  The narrative gradually changed, the popular view of Al Qaeda became more vague and decentralised, and the main enemy became rogue states, particularly those with WMD of some kind.  This fluctuation between state enemy images and stateless enemy images dominated the Cold War and has continued as the battle lines have been redrawn.  

This process of shifting the 'war on terror' narrative culminated with the war in Libya, where one of the last Middle Eastern leaders to resist NATO's imperial tyranny was removed from power by the very same Islamists who a decade earlier were NATO's primary enemy image.  The same Islamists were then encouraged and helped to go to Syria to create a civil war there.  Now that the KGB have slammed the door shut on any escalation of the failed proxy civil war plan in Syria, NATO have been forced to back off.  Right on schedule we got another major terrorist attack that shifted the geographic and geopolitical focus and the terrorists who were our freedom fighters in Libya and Syria are now terrorists again. This was followed by a small scale but utterly lawless pair of commando strikes.   

The moral of the story is not that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but that in NATO's case one man's terrorists are the same man's freedom fighters.  

Related Pages

The Libyan

Samantha Lewthwaite: Wanted Dead or Alive

ClandesTime 003 - Massacre in Kenya