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Cablegate: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group Revises Jihadist Ideology

DE RUEHTRO #0955/01 3431556
O P 091556Z DEC 09



STATE FOR NEA/FO AND NEA/MAG. E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/8/2019



CLASSIFIED BY: Joan A. Polaschik, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(S/NF) Summary: Six leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) imprisoned in Libya recently issued a 417-page document renouncing the use of violence and establishing a new "code" for jihad. The group includes LIFG's "founding fathers," individuals with ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) senior leadership, including the elder brother of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a leading AQIM figure. The recantation claims to represent a clearer understanding of the "ethics" of Islamic shari'a law and jihad and specifically refutes the LIFG's decades-long jihad against Muammar al-Qadhafi. The document is the result of a two-year initiative led by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi through his Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation (QDF), and supported by Libya's internal and external security services. As a result of the initiative, more than 200 jihadists (approximately half of the imprisoned LIGF members) have been released from prison, with more releases expected soon. The initiative has been highlighted by local and international media as a potential model in counter-radicalization and touted by the Libyan government as a "revolutionary new method to combat terrorism and the influence of Al Qaeda in the region." While Libya's terrorist rehabilitation program has drawn skepticism from some quarters, who view the recantation as coerced and politically motivated, the work is reportedly being reviewed by foreign governments and has received praise as a positive GOL contribution to regional counterterrorism efforts. While the initiative is significant for Libya's internal politics -- simultaneously shoring up regime stability and Saif al-Islam's credentials -- its long-term effects as a counter-radicalization effort remain to be seen. End summary.

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2.(SBU) In late September, six leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, being held in the Abu Salim prison, issued a document outlining a revised interpretation of their jihadist ideology -- one which renounces violence and claims to adhere to a more sound Islamic theology than that of Al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations. The authors represent the group's historic senior leadership, including Abd al-Hakim Balhaj (aka, Abu Abd Allah al-Sadiq, Emir of the LIFG), Abu al-Munder al-Saidi (Jurisprudence Official of the LIFG/most senior shari'a authority), Abd al-Wahab al-Qayed (the elder brother of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a leading AQIM figure), Khalid al-Sharif, Miftah al-Duwdi, and Mustafa Qanaifid. In the 417-page, Arabic-language document, entitled "Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People," the authors point to ignorance and a misinterpretation of Islamic jurisprudence as the basis for their formerly violent expression of Islamic jihad. The authors state that "The lack of religious knowledge, whether it was a result of an absence of 'ulama' (religious scholars) or the neglect of people in receiving it and attaining it, or due to the absence of its sources, is the biggest cause of errors and religious violations." They credit a deep evaluation of their lives' experiences, coupled with a closer study of shari'a law for their ideological reform.

3.(SBU) The study is characterized as an attempt to recant former LIFG doctrine and to establish a new "code" for jihad for the benefit of the modern Muslim community. In the text, the authors directly challenge Al Qaeda, addressing the recantation to "anyone who we might have once had organizational or brotherly ties with." The document gives detailed interpretations of the "ethics and morals to jihad," which include the rejection of violence as a means to change political situations in Muslim majority countries whose leader is a Muslim and condemns "the killing of women, children, the elderly, monks/priests, wage earners, messengers, merchants and the like." It claims that "The reduction of jihad to fighting with the sword is an error and shortcoming."

4.(S/NF) The revised LIFG ideology is the result of a two-year initiative, led by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi in his capacity as QDF chairman and brokered on behalf of the Libyan government. According to press reports and Libyan officials, Saif worked closely with the UK-based former LIFG leader, Noman Benotman, on the effort to work on a revised ideology with the LIFG in exchange for amnesty. QDF's lead negotiator, Salah Abdelsalam Salah, director of the QDF's Human Rights Committee, (who also heads Saif al-Islam's al-Ghad Media Group, ref A), said that he had met with al-Sadiq "4-5" times in 2007, before reconciliation TRIPOLI 00000955 002.2 OF 003 discussions began in earnest. At that time, al-Sadiq seemed "ready to reconcile" and had indicated that his cohort shared his serious desire to break with their violent past.

5.(S/NF) Salah detailed the two-year negotiation in a meeting with Pol/Econ Chief, sharing several handwritten letters from al-Sadiq to Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, requesting assistance. After the initial communication, a series of meetings began, along two tracks: the first involving imprisoned LIFG leadership conversing with their members; the second involving LIFG leadership, the QDF, leading Islamic scholars, and prison officials (from Libya's Internal Security Organization). Libya's External Security Organization reportedly took on a supporting role, coordinating a "reconciliation and rehabilitation" movement among Libyan opposition figures (including LIFG members and others) living abroad. The meetings continued over the course of two years, and al-Sadiq wrote letters to Saif al-Islam throughout that period with updates on the LIFG position. In a letter dated January 16, 2009, al-Sadiq informed Saif of the LIFG's intention to draft the recantation work by August 1, 2009, to announce revisions to its jihadist ideology and to reconcile with the Libyan regime. On February 23, 2009, al-Sadiq issued a press statement on behalf of the LIFG leaders in prison, announcing the continuation of a reconciliation dialogue with the QDF and GOL. Salah refused to comment on international press reports that Saif faced challenges from old guard regime officials who reportedly did not want to pardon the prisoners.

6.(S/NF) As reported in ref B, QDF's Executive Director told us in August that the QDF had facilitated consultations between LIFG leadership and leading Islamic scholars, such as Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qardawi and Sheikh Ali Asalabi. In response to an early-2009 letter from al-Sadiq to Saif requesting by title a list of more than 10 books on Islamic jurisprudence, the QDF provided reading and reference materials for the LIFG to study in prison. On August 1, al-Sadiq informed Saif that the revisionist study was complete and submitted it for review.

7.(S/NF) On August 23, to mark the beginning of Ramadan and the Libyan leader's 40th anniversary in power, LIFG leadership issued another press statement, this time apologizing to Muammar al-Qadhafi for their past acts of violence against him. The first of two rounds of prison releases took place shortly after the statement was published, with 91 LIFG prisoners pardoned and released. A second amnesty was announced in mid-October, with another 43 LIFG members reportedly being released. According to Salah, these releases constitute approximately half of the imprisoned LIFG members, all of whom were imprisoned at Abu Salim prison. (Saif al-Islam has publicly stated his intention to demolish the facility, infamous for a 1996 uprising that left 1200 prisoners dead, after the last prisoners have been released.) Salah reported that another round of amnesties would take place in the coming weeks, with Saif's ultimate goal being 100-percent prisoner release. In a separate effort, Salah said that the GOL has released some 62 members of other "jihadist groups" from Abu Salim prison based on their recantations of violent jihad.

8.(S/NF) According to Salah, the revisionist study represented the dissolution of the LIFG organization in Libya. Upon release, each former LIFG member becomes a "regular" citizen and is allowed to "do what regular Libyans do," including unrestricted movement and the freedom to travel abroad. Salah vehemently denied the assertion among some analysts that the LIFG leaders reconciled due to lucrative incentive packages offered by the GOL. He claimed that the only benefits given to former LIFG prisoners upon release were "job training and employment assistance, financial support for medical care, if needed, and living expenses until the prisoners are able to find jobs." Some press reports indicate that as a condition of the pardon, former militants are required to pledge not to participate in Libyan politics, although they are able to speak in mosques. [Comment: Even if they wanted to participate in politics, how they would do so is unclear, given that political parties are outlawed in Libya. End comment.]

9.(SBU) Saif al-Islam's involvement in the reconciliation effort has received widespread local and international media attention -- state-run print media has published excerpts of the text and praised Saif for his work, and CNN recently broadcast a feature report on the efforts. The CNN report praises the initiative, describing Saif's motivation as not only ending the TRIPOLI 00000955 003.2 OF 003 violent movement against the regime but also combating Al Qaeda's "growing influence in the region." CNN further claimed that, "In essence the new code for jihad is exactly what the West has been waiting for: a credible challenge from within jihadist ranks to Al Qaeda's ideology." International think-tanks such as the Quilliam Foundation and Jihadica have analyzed the efforts and the LIFG document, with the latter calling it a "very sweeping repudiation not just of Salafi jihadism but of all forms of revolutionary Islamism in general."

10.(C) Some observers believe the Libyan counter-radicalization experiment could be used as a model across the region and state that it differs from similar efforts, such as those in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt in its methods and target audience. The September 17 edition of the US-based "Terrorism Monitor" credited the initiative's success to the "full institutional participation of the LIFG and its leadership," in the reform project. By contrast, the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni models, for example, relied on "the conversion of militant individuals who may remain drawn (willingly or otherwise) to their former organizations." In Egypt, the work of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, while renouncing violence, maintained a fairly extreme ideology, propounded primarily by a single leader of the organization.

11.(S/NF) The Libyan government proudly explained the efforts to reconcile with LIFG members during a September 6 meeting with NEA A/S Feltman. During the meeting, Director of Military Intelligence and Muammar al-Qadhafi confidante, Abdullah al-Sanussi, described the effort as a "revolutionary new method to combat terrorism and the influence of Al Qaeda in the region," and presented a pre-published copy of the recantation study. UK diplomats have told us that the Libyans have also given them a copy of the work, which they are translating in full and analyzing as a possible model for counter-radicalization efforts. Other diplomats have praised the program as a positive GOL contribution to regional counterterrorism efforts.

12.(S/NF) Amidst the positive international attention currently focused on Saif al-Islam's LIFG counter-radicalization program, some observers have expressed skepticism to emboffs about the project. One Western diplomat confided his personal view that the efforts were purely political and that even the Islamic scholars involved in the effort, such as Yusuf al-Qardawi, had political agendas. A number of private Libyan citizens agreed with the opinions expressed on some foreign-based blogs, that Libya's security organizations forced the LIFG leaders to write the recantation and that some LIFG members -- imprisoned in Abu Salim prison for decades -- were simply motivated by the prospect of pardon and the hope of reuniting with their families.


13.(S/NF) While local and international opinions are still being formulated on the initiative, the LIFG's renouncement of violent jihad and extremist ideology, and the document's direct challenge to Al Qaeda, represents a significant achievement for Saif al-Islam in particular and the Libyan government as a whole. The primary motivation for Muammar al-Qadhafi's backing of the initiative was undoubtedly regime security, and for Saif al-Islam, it may also have been political, designed to shore up his credentials both at home and abroad. We suspect that the Libyan Government may well have contributed significant resources in the form of "financial assistance" to help ensure that the newly released fighters maintain their end of the bargain. The GOL's immediate payoff on this investment is significant: the elimination of one of Qadhafi's most staunch opposition groups and a high-profile public relations coup in Libya's ongoing quest to position itself as a leader in the Islamic world. However, the long-term effects of the initiative, particularly with respect to the ideology of jihad and global counter-radicalization efforts, remains to be seen. POLASCHIK

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