By Thomas Joscelyn, senior editor, Long War Journal
By Norvell DeAtkine
In this article the author sketches the recent career of al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai, and the importance of his capture by a joint U. S. military and FBI team. His extensive dossier included most recently responsibility to build an al Qaeda network in Libya, create an Islamic state, and institute Sharia law.
Wanted by American authorities since the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Africa, for which he had acted as a surveillance agent, al Libi, had been living rather openly in Libya, being interviewed by Western media, and making little effort to conceal his ties to al Qaeda.
The author describes in some detail a number of official U.S. reports on his activities and his importance to the al Qaeda organization, describing him as a core member of Al Qaeda. Mr. Joscelyn goes on to describe al Qaeda as having a core leadership based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but present elsewhere in the Islamic world. He paints a picture of leadership being somewhat decentralized and depending on the leadership of people like al Libi to implement very general guidance from the al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahiri.
In building his organization, al Libi was to coordinate with groups affiliated with al Qaeda, stockpile arms, and launch operations using the Libyan rebellion to install an Islamist regime in Libya relying on returnees from other conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. In this, one can see parallels with the current situation in Syria.
There is no doubt that the capture of al Libi may prove an intelligence boon to U.S. authorities, but it seems to have been prompted as much by U.S. Government embarrassment over al Libi’s open lifestyle and interviews by Western media.
The frequent decapitation of al Qaeda leadership by drone strikes and capture does not seem to have greatly diminished its ability to continue operations. In fact, shortly after this capture, al Qaeda operatives abducted the prime minister of Libya in broad daylight, releasing him after a few days, to demonstrate their unfettered ability to continue operations. Moreover it has been suggested that these strikes on al-Qaeda leadership act as culling process allowing younger more imaginative leaders to rise to the top.
The earlier career of al Libi, which is not part of this article, brings into sharp focus the problems Western democracies have in combatting Islamist terrorism. Granted asylum by the United Kingdom in 1995, British officials denied requested extradition to Egypt to face terrorism charges, citing the ruling that he could not get a fair trial in Egypt. Later he was interviewed by Scotland Yard but released for lack of evidence.