Leaders from at least three of al Qaeda’s most virulent affiliates are now in Libya. What are they planning there?
In the nearly 20 months since the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks, al Qaeda operatives and allied terrorists have flocked to Libya, making the fragile North African country a hub for those seeking to wage jihad from north Africa, current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials tell The Daily Beast.
Not only does al Qaeda host Ansar al-Sharia, one of the militias responsible for the Benghazi attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But U.S. intelligence now assesses that leaders from at least three regional al Qaeda affiliates—al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and members of the organization of Al-Mulathameen Brigade loyal to Algerian terrorist, Mokhtar BelMokhtar—have all established havens in the lawless regions of Libya outside the control of the central government.
One U.S. military contractor working on counter-terrorism in Africa summed up the situation in Libya today as simply, “Scumbag Woodstock.” The country has attracted that star-studded roster of notorious terrorists and fanatics seeking to wage war on the West.
An American counter-terrorism official used a different metaphor to describe the situation. “Libya today plays host to members and associates of several AQ-allied groups, in some ways becoming a jihadist melting pot,” this official told The Daily Beast. “These groups haven’t united under the same banner, but the ad hoc links and intermittent cooperation among them are worrisome, especially as some of these groups have made no secret of their desire to conduct attacks beyond Libya’s borders.”