Al Qaeda Takes Libya By Storm

The brutal authoritarian dictator Muammar Gaddafi may have been ousted from Libya, but could post-Gaddafi Libya turn even more dangerous and repressive?

VICE media recently explored that question on an investigative trip to Libya, and the results are troublesome. According to multiple eyewitnesses, Al Qaeda's flags are now flying atop the central courthouse in Benghazi, the city which sparked the rebellion. Sherif Elhelwa reports:

"Earlier this week, I went to the Benghazi courthouse and confirmed the rumors: an al Qaeda flag was clearly visible; its Arabic script declaring that “there is no God but Allah” and a full moon underneath. When I tried to take pictures, a Salafi-looking guard, wearing a green camouflage outfit, rushed towards me and demanded to know what I was doing. My response was straightforward: I was taking a picture of the flag. He gave me an intimidating look and hissed, "Whomever speaks ill of this flag, we will cut off his tongue. I recommend that you don't publish these. You will bring trouble to yourself."

According to Elhelwa, Abdelhakim Belhaj, a well-known al Qaeda fighter and founder of the notorious Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), is now leading the rebel “military counsel” in Tripoli. Belhaj recently ordered fighters to take control of the Tripoli airport, and several days later, he gave a speech saying he had the blessings of Libya’s National Transitional Counsel (NTC), who appointed him to lead Tripoli’s military command.

Now, a special military group inside the NTC is calling on Salafi fighters with military backgrounds to join a special group fighting in the rebellion. Moustafa Abdeljalil, the head of the NTC, recently declared Libya an “Islamic state, and sharia law is the source of all our laws."

The battle for control of post-revolutionary Libya has only begun, and Al Qaeda fighters are among the many people trying to fill the power vacuum. For more information, watch VICE's video report from Libya:

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