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15 Dec 09
Libya's coup: Turning militants against Al Qaeda,
LAT, Borzou Daragahi
13 Nov 09 Terrorist suspects released from house arrest after peace deal, Daily Telegraph, Duncan Gardham
10 Nov 09 New jihad code threatens al Qaeda, CNN, Nic Robertson & Paul Cruickshank, video
29 Oct 09 Infamous Islamist Imam Forswears Terror, Der Spiegel, Yassin Musharbash & Andreas Ulrich
29 Oct 09 Mohammed El Fazazi: 'Germany Is No Battle Zone', Der Spiegel
jihad code threatens al Qaeda
By Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank, CNN
The Jihadi CodeEditors Note: This story is the result of a two-year CNN investigative report into peace talks held between the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and the Libyan Government which recently culminated in the LIFG, a militant jihadist group once close to Osama bin Laden, repudiating al Qaeda. "The Jihadi Code," a documentary on the breakthrough against al Qaeda in Libya, airs on November 15 at 1200 GMT.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS Video: Into the prison in Tripoli
CNN gains exclusive access to jihadist organization challenging al Qaeda
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group produced new code for fighting jihad
Code's ban on killing women, children contradicts Al Qaeda's bombing methods
The LIFG has been at war with Col. Gaddafi's regime for two decades
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- From within Libya's most secure jail a new challenge to al Qaeda is emerging.
Leaders of one of the world's most effective jihadist organizations, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), have written a new "code" for jihad. The LIFG says it now views the armed struggle it waged against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime for two decades as illegal under Islamic law.
The new code, a 417-page religious document entitled "Corrective Studies" is the result of more than two years of intense and secret talks between the leaders of the LIFG and Libyan security officials.
The code's most direct challenge to al Qaeda is this: "Jihad has ethics and morals because it is for God. That means it is forbidden to kill women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders and the like. Betrayal is prohibited and it is vital to keep promises and treat prisoners of war in a good way. Standing by those ethics is what distinguishes Muslims' jihad from the wars of other nations."
The code has been circulated among some of the most respected religious scholars in the Middle East and has been given widespread backing. It is being debated by politicians in the U.S. and studied by western intelligence agencies.
Gallery: The new jihadi code 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.
While the code states that jihad is permissible if Muslim lands are invaded -- citing the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine -- the guidelines it sets down for when and how jihad should be fought, and its insistence that civilians should not be targeted are a clear rebuke to the goals and tactics of bin Laden's terrorist network.
CNN was given exclusive access to the Abu Salim jail where the code was written to talk to the LIFG prisoners. The jail has a bloody reputation; in 1996 prison guards put down a revolt by allegedly killing more than 1,200 prisoners in less than 24 hours. Read how CNN got inside the prison
We also had exclusive access to the story behind the new code from two of its principle architects.
When Saif al Islam al Gadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, decided he wanted to open a dialogue with the LIFG he needed to convince them he was genuine so he sought out a former LIFG commander Noman Benotman, who was living in London.
The younger Gadhafi convinced Benotman he would free LIFG members from jail if they renounced their long war with the regime. He promised Benotman immunity from prosecution and in January 2007 flew him back to Libya to meet with the LIFG leaders in the high-security Abu Salim jail.
Benotman and the other leaders in the LIFG had fought together in Afghanistan in the early 1990s helping the Afghan Mujahedeen overthrow the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. During those years they'd come to know bin Laden and many other of al Qaeda leaders.
Although they'd been brothers in arms with bin Laden, the LIFG never merged its operations with al Qaeda due to differences in approach. In particular the Libyan group never endorsed bin Laden's global jihad, preferring to concentrate their attention on overthrowing the Gadhafi regime and replacing it with an Islamic state. From the mid-1990s the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's Afghan-trained fighters waged a fierce insurgency against the Libyan regime.
In a face-to-face meeting in 2000 Benotman warned bin Laden not to attack the United States because any gains would be outweighed by the inevitable retribution, and undermine his group's efforts in Libya. By then Libyan security services had arrested many of the group's fighters in Libya.
I questioned their [al Qaeda's] idea of Jihad directly you know. This is crazy, it is not Islamic.Despite their differences bin Laden respected the LIFG's leadership. Indeed, according to Benotman, in the years before 9/11, bin Laden wanted to use the LIFG's extensive global network for his own ends but the group refused to put its assets at al Qaeda's disposal.
When Benotman met with the LIFG leaders in January 2007 it was the first time they'd seen him in years. Some had been in jail for more than a decade. Others were captured in the international dragnet for jihadists thrown out by security services in the wake of 9/11. They agreed to consider Saif al Islam's proposal but had demands of their own.
They wanted greater freedoms in jail, the right to consult with their rank and file membership, access to religious research books and more. Over time and many meetings the security officials granted most of their demands.
Saif al Islam was motivated not just to bring a formal end to the civil war but to put a stop to al Qaeda's growing influence in Libya.
As recently as 2006 al Qaeda documents captured by U.S. forces in Iraq showed per capita more Libyans than any other Arab nation were joining al Qaeda's fight. The regime's fear was that they'd bring their fight back to Libya.
In late 2007 as Benotman, the LIFG leadership and Libya's security officials debated the way forward al Qaeda tried to derail the peace process. Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al Zawahiri issued a statement declaring the LIFG had joined al Qaeda.
Benotman fired back an open letter to Zawahiri questioning his credibility. "I questioned their idea of jihad ... directly you know. This is crazy, it is not Islamic and it's against the Sunni understanding of Islam," Benotman told CNN. Zawahiri chose not to respond. As late as this August Zawahiri's video statements included praise of LIFG leaders, in what may have been a desperate attempt to head off the condemnation he could see coming.
Even so progress in the jail was slow. In April 2009 the talks were nearly derailed when Ibn Sheikh al Libi, a prominent jihadist was found hanged in his prison cell. According to sources familiar with the talks, Saif al Islam feared his death, which some LIFG members considered suspicious, could put the whole process in jeopardy. He put pressure on prison officials to meet the LIFG's remaining demands, giving them greater freedom to consult with the rank and file.
That led the LIFG to start writing their Revisons. In July 2009 the peace process received a boost when 30 LIFG members living in the UK, some of them senior figures in the group, signed on. The group's UK members, some of whom were under British government Control Orders because they potentially posed a danger to UK national security, had previously been openly skeptical of the talks.
In September the new code, the "Corrective Studies", was completed, resulting in scores of lower and mid-level LIFG members being freed. Moammar Gadhafi's son says the group's leaders will be released at some point in the future, and will be encouraged to educate and dissuade Libya's youth from going off to fight with al Qaeda.
According to Libyan sources, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 passed on the Revisions document, after it was published, to a number of individuals subject to Control Orders in the UK. Those sources say the peace process led to Control Orders being dropped against 11 members of the group living in the UK, leaving only one Libyan subject to the restrictions. The process initiated in Tripoli appears to have directly made the West safer.
In their new code for Jihadists, LIFG's leaders made it clear that battling extremism will be challenging. "We have written this book knowing full well that the old motives and ideas which made us take up the armed struggle in the past are still to be found in the hearts and minds of many young Muslims today," they wrote.
"We know there are many issues that might lead them to take the same path; that's why we are offering our advice and guidance to these brothers."
Given its credibility and the fact that several other prominent Jihadists in the Middle East have turned against al Qaeda, the LIFG's about face may be an important step toward staunching al Qaeda's recruitment.
coup: Turning militants against Al Qaeda
Kadafi's government is touting its success in persuading
the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to renounce Osama bin Laden's tactics.
By Borzou Daragahi
An unidentified former militant, left, is greeted by relatives after being released from prison in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Dozens of members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had their life sentences commuted. (Abdel Magid Al Fergany / Associated Press / October 15, 2009)
Reporting from Tripoli, Libya - A nation the West once considered a major sponsor of terrorism may have pulled off a groundbreaking coup against Al Qaeda: coaxing a group once strongly allied with Osama bin Laden to renounce its onetime partner as un-Islamic.
Libya's government is trumpeting its success in persuading leaders and foot soldiers of the extremist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to reject Al Qaeda's brand of violence. The decision, recounted by former members of the group and Libyan officials, offers a unique example of reconciliation between a government and a violent Islamic group once devoted to overthrowing it.
"The government learned to sit with people who were opposed to them and have dialogue and understand them," said Abubakir Armela, a leader of the group who returned from exile in 2005.
The effort also provides lessons that might be applied in other countries where local insurgents have joined forces with Al Qaeda, including Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco and Algeria.
"I used to believe that the only way to change the system was through war or fighting," said Tarek Mufteh Ghunnay, who, like dozens of other members of the group, was released from prison last month after his life sentence was commuted. "Now, on the contrary, I believe in dialogue and the peaceful way."
The defanging of a group that the U.S. has listed as a terrorist organization since 2004 is the fruit of a years-long dialogue between the militants and the government. The effort was launched by Saif Islam Kadafi, the Western-educated son of aging Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi who many say is being positioned to replace him.
Pacifying militants out to overthrow the government bolsters the younger Kadafi's authority and smooths any future transfer of power. It may also help Libya's attempts to improve its battered image in the West. Tripoli had been ostracized until it dismantled its clandestine nuclear program in 2004, and it sparked further outrage this year when it welcomed home the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, after he was freed from a Scottish prison.
"This group was not just related to Al Qaeda. They were in bed deeply with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and later," said Robert Pape, a specialist on Al Qaeda at the University of Chicago and the sole scholar among a small of group of U.S. journalists recently invited to Tripoli by a Libyan charity, the Kadafi Foundation, to meet the former militants.
"This is a splitting of Al Qaeda," he said. "I can't remember that ever happening."
The trajectory of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group is a chapter in the history of Al Qaeda's rise, expansion and eventual weakening. Its members could provide a potential trove of intelligence for Western security officials seeking to divide and conquer the terrorist network and capture Bin Laden.
Members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group trained in Afghanistan with Bin Laden, followed him during his years in Sudan and shared personnel, tactics and a puritanical Salafist religious outlook with Al Qaeda until earlier this decade. On the run throughout the Middle East, many of them were caught, sent home and sentenced to life in prison.
They broke off their partnership with Al Qaeda and denounced its brand of violence in a 400-page document completed in September and titled "Revised Studies." Vahid Brown of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point described it in an online analysis "as a very sweeping repudiation not just of Salafi jihadism but of all forms of revolutionary Islamism in general."
Former fighter Ghunnay said his enthusiasm for political violence had already faded by 1999, when he found himself shackled, loaded onto a plane in Jordan and sent back to his native Libya to face charges of being a member of a terrorist organization.
He was just 17 when he heeded the call to jihad in 1990. Moammar Kadafi had launched a widespread crackdown on Islamic groups after a January 1989 uprising against his rule. Ghunnay, a student of the Koran at a religious school, was summoned for questioning and kept under watch.
Captivated by videos showing Soviet brutality in Afghanistan and encouraged by fiery Muslim clerics, he created a fake passport, teamed up with six other Libyans and traveled through Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before traversing the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.
Ghunnay spent two months learning the art of combat at the infamous Al Farouq training camp, which produced many of Al Qaeda's best-known alums, including "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh and four of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
"I was going to fight over there," he said in an interview at his home, off an alleyway in a run-down section of Tripoli, the Libyan capital. "I was seeing what the Soviets were doing in Afghanistan, what murders and horrible things were happening. I was looking to be killed and die for Islam."
Ghunnay worked as a rocket launcher, backing up the mujahedin fighting government forces for control of the Afghan city of Jalalabad. As the Moscow-backed government collapsed and the country descended into civil war, Ghunnay and other Libyans left the country.
They refocused their attention on going after Kadafi almost as soon as they left Afghanistan. They went underground, and Ghunnay adopted the nom de guerre Abu Ebrahim, receiving instructions from the newly formed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in informal code.
In those days, "slippers" meant passports and "straw huts" meant embassies. Ghunnay dodged authorities, going to Mauritania, Senegal, Yemen, Jordan and Syria as a propagandist for the fighting group, which in the 1990s began assassinating members of Libya's security forces.
In 1996, one member threw a grenade at Kadafi. It failed to explode, but the attempt established the group as a force to be reckoned with.
Ghunnay said he first met Bin Laden at a 1995 Ramadan celebration in Sudan, where Arab veterans of the Afghan war had flocked.
"He was very much respected," Ghunnay recalled. "He was a rich man, so he could have a luxurious life in Europe. But he spent his money on jihad. He didn't even have air conditioning in his home."
Ghunnay was finally arrested in Jordan in 1999, questioned for suspected ties to Islamic militants and sent back to Libya. He was convicted of taking up arms against the government, among other charges, and sentenced to life in prison.
Behind bars, Ghunnay and others said, they were shocked at the violence being carried out against civilians by Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda in Algeria and Egypt, and at the Sept. 11 attacks.
The former members of the group said their views changed through discussions with clerics and one another. The Kadafi Foundation, overseen by the younger Kadafi, took a lead role in institutionalizing the discussions and helped in producing the "Revised Studies" document, which questions violence except in cases of self-defense.
"Just because they're different, it's not an excuse to kill people," said Ghunnay, a short, bearded man who now hopes to find work teaching the Koran. "It's not Islam. Killing people -- whether Jews, Christians or Buddhists -- because of their religion is a sin. Only if someone is trying to fight you is it permitted to kill them."
Officials and former fighters acknowledged that speaking out so publicly against Al Qaeda risks incurring the wrath of Islamic militants, including Bin Laden-allied groups in neighboring countries.
Advocates of the reconciliation effort, such as Salem Mohammed Adam, a former Libyan diplomat who has negotiated with Islamic militants, say they aren't too worried about what Al Qaeda might think or do in response to the document, which is partially online and will soon be distributed throughout the Arab world.
Said Adam: "Let them go to hell."