Tag Archive: al-Qaida


Mullah Omarhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110504/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Osama bin Laden’s death is likely to revive a debate within the Afghan Taliban about their ties to al-Qaida — a union the U.S. insists must end if the insurgents want to talk peace.

The foundation of their relationship is believed to be rooted in bin Laden’s long friendship with the Taliban’s reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who might now find it more palatable to break with al-Qaida and negotiate a settlement to the war. Much may depend on the newly chastened power-broker next door: Pakistan.

“I think now is an opportunity for the Taliban to end their relations with al-Qaida,” said Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based analyst and former foreign ministry official under the Taliban regime that was toppled in late 2001.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, said it was too early to comment.

But the death of the world’s top terrorist gives momentum toward finding a political solution to the nearly decade-long war, according to analysts familiar with U.S. officials’ stepped-up effort this year to push a peace agenda.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have said they will negotiate with any member of the Taliban who embraces the Afghan constitution, renounces violence and severs ties with al-Qaida. Informal contacts have been made in recent months with high-ranking Taliban figures, but no formal peace talks are under way.

The possible opportunity comes just as the spring fighting season is kicking into gear. The U.S.-led coalition hopes to hold ground in southern Afghanistan gained as a result of the addition last year of an extra 30,000 American troops. The Taliban’s goal remains undermining the Afghan government, discrediting its security forces and driving the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and other foreign forces out of the country.

Even before bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs at a compound in Pakistan on Monday, the links between the al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban had weakened during the 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Muzhda said. Mullah Omar’s refusal to hand over bin Laden after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon prompted the U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban from power. By siding with bin Laden, Mullah Omar’s hardline regime lost control of the nation.

The goals of the two movements are not closely aligned. While al-Qaida is focused on worldwide jihad against the West and establishment of a religious superstate in the Muslim world, the Afghan Taliban have focused on their own country and have shown little to no interest in attacking targets outside Afghanistan. The car bombing in May 2010 in New York’s Times Square was linked to the Pakistani Taliban — an autonomous group on the other side of the border.

But breaking with al-Qaida would mean forgoing some reliable funding channels in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Syria, according to a Western intelligence officer. Mullah Omar’s association with bin Laden also gave him clout, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Al-Qaida shares its technical expertise in explosives and helps the Taliban traffic narcotics made with opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, he said. For their part, the Taliban allow al-Qaida to come into Afghanistan on the backs of Taliban fighters.

Still, some members of the Taliban’s top leadership council have grown uncomfortable with al-Qaida, and a vocal minority want to distance themselves from the mostly Arab terrorist network, he said.

There are also cultural differences. Al-Qaida has viewed the Taliban as more backward, “kinda like West Virginia mountain folk — unrefined, uneducated,” the officer said.

And “the older generation of Taliban leaders had long ago become fed up with the arrogance of Arab jihadists,” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote Monday in a column in the Financial Times.

Two other issues, according to the intelligence officer, could affect the Taliban’s internal debate about al-Qaida. While Bin Laden had personal connections to Taliban leaders, the man expected to replace him, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, is a less charismatic, unifying figure. And top Taliban leaders now know that the U.S. might hunt them down in Pakistan even without the cooperation or knowledge of the Pakistani military — as was done with bin Laden.

In June 2010, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that there were probably only 50 to 100 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan — that most of the terrorist network was, without question, operating from the western tribal region of Pakistan. Last month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that while some al-Qaida fighters have been searching for hide-outs in rugged areas of eastern Afghanistan, he did not think they were making a comeback inside the country.

Abu Hafs al-Najdi — a senior al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan and the coalition’s No. 2 overall targeted insurgent in the country — was killed in an April 13 airstrike in Kunar province, a hotbed of the insurgency in the northeast. In the past several weeks, coalition forces reported killing more than 25 al-Qaida leaders and fighters.

While the military offensive continues, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that the United States had accelerated a diplomatic push to craft a political solution to the war. Marc Grossman, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who is heading up the effort, met with Afghanistan and Pakistan officials on Tuesday in Islamabad and agreed to set up a so-called Core Group for promoting the Afghan-led reconciliation effort.

With little known about the secret inner workings of the Afghan Taliban’s governing council, called the Quetta Shura, analysts can only speculate about the group’s plans.

“The killing of bin Laden might motivate them to sever their ties,” said Brian Katulis, of the Washington-based think-tank Center for American Progress. “I think the signal that the Quetta Shura and others are getting from people in Pakistan in the security services will be key.”

The U.S. has accused Pakistan’s military-run spy service of maintaining links with the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Afghan Taliban and closely aligned with al-Qaida. Pointedly, the Americans did not inform Pakistan about Monday’s helicopter raid that killed bin Laden until it was over.

That bin Laden’s hideout turned out to be a three-story home a short drive from the capital, Islamabad, and close to various Pakistani army regiments has raised suspicions in Washington that the Pakistanis may have been sheltering him. For years, Western intelligence had said bin Laden was most likely holed up in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The Pakistani government has denied suggestions that its security forces knew bin Laden was there. Pakistani officials have long argued that they have done their part in the fight against militants and denounce allegations that they are backing insurgents.

“The raid was obviously deeply embarrassing for the Pakistanis,” Katulis said. “They could either redouble their efforts to try to cooperate more closely with the U.S. or they can continue to play their passive-aggressive game.”

Don’t expect a near-term divorce with al-Qaida, said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst with The Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank.

“It makes no sense for the Taliban to concede this point on the front end — without receiving any commensurate concession from the other side,” Hanna said. “Some of the Taliban I have spoken to have made the point that as long as the military fight escalates, they will cooperate with other forces who are willing to assist them in their fight against the U.S.-led coalition. They portray any pre-emptive severing of ties as a type of unilateral, partial disarmament.”

Seth Jones, a RAND Corp. political scientist who advised the commander of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, said he suspects “the Taliban would interpret cutting ties with al-Qaida as kowtowing to the Americans.”

Jones said that while the Taliban don’t need al-Qaida to operate, they still retain ties with al-Qaida’s senior leaders as they have for decades.

Former Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid said some members of the Taliban want to split with al-Qaida. The fighting spirit of the Taliban has been dampened by recent brutal attacks around the country that killed scores of Afghan civilians — attacks he suspects were inspired by al-Qaida.

These Taliban members “feel they are going the wrong way,” Khalid said.

However, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president, said top Taliban leaders directing the insurgency remain very closely associated with al-Qaida. Al-Qaida still helps train Taliban fighters, and foreign fighters aligned with al-Qaida continue to fight side-by-side with Taliban foot soldiers, he said.

“I don’t know how they will be able to distance themselves,” Karzai said.

___

Associated Press Writers Heidi Vogt, Solomon Moore and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

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White House: bin Laden unarmed during assault

Local people and media gather outside the perimeter wall and sealed gate into the compound and a house where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was caughhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110503/ap_on_re_us/us_bin_laden

By Nancy Benac, Associated Press Nancy Benac, Associated Press 46 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was confronted by U.S. commandos at his Pakistani hideout but tried to resist the assault, the White House said Tuesday as new details emerged about the audacious raid that killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.

The White House said it was considering whether to release photos that were taken of bin Laden after he was killed but was concerned that the photos were “gruesome” and could be inflammatory.

Other details that emerged on Tuesday, according to U.S. officials: One of bin Laden’s wives tried to rush the commandos and was shot in the leg. High temperatures caused a lumbering helicopter carrying the raiders to make a hard landing. And as Navy SEALs swept through the compound, they handcuffed those they encountered with plastic zip ties and pressed on in pursuit of their target, code-named Geronimo.

Once bin Laden had been shot, they doubled back to move the prisoners away from the compound before blowing up the downed helicopter.

The fuller picture of the high-stakes assault emerged as U.S. officials weighed whether to release video and photos of bin Laden, who was killed with a shot above his left eye.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and revealed some of the new details about the raid, said she’d known about the suspected bin Laden compound since last December — offering rare evidence that Washington can indeed keep a blockbuster secret.

President Barack Obama made plans to go to ground zero in New York on Thursday to mark the milestone of bin Laden’s demise and to remember the dead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the U.S. was scouring items seized in the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — said to include hard drives, DVDs, a pile of documents and more — that might tip U.S. intelligence to al-Qaida’s operational details and perhaps lead to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

As for publicly releasing photos and video, Brennan said in a series of appearances on morning television. “This needs to be done thoughtfully,” with careful consideration given to what kind of reaction the images might provoke.

At issue were photos of bin Laden’s corpse and video of his swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also anxious to address the stories already building in Pakistan and beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.

In a move that could increase pressure for the release of photos, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said talk of bin Laden’s death was “premature,” adding that the U.S. had not presented “convincing evidence,” the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

Obama, who approved the extraordinarily risky operation and witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room, his face heavy with tension, reaped accolades from world leaders he’d kept in the dark as well as from political opponents at home. Pakistan, however, called the raid “unauthorized” Tuesday and it shouldn’t serve as a precedent for future actions.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, in interviews with Time and PBS’ “Newshour,” sketched the scene in the Situation Room as the tense final minutes of the raid played out.

“Once those teams went into the compound,” he told PBS, “I can tell you there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on.”

Then, Panetta told Time, when Adm. William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, reported that the commandos had identified “Geronimo” — the code name for bin Laden — “all the air we were holding came out.”

And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, Panetta said, the room broke into applause.

Carney filled in details about the assault, saying that bin Laden did resist the commandos, although he was not armed. One of bin Laden’s wives, Carney said, was in the room and tried to charge at the U.S. assaulters.”

Monday night, Republican and Democratic leaders gave Obama a standing ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before the assault but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step away from the fractious political climate.

The episode was an embarrassment, at best, for Pakistani authorities as bin Laden’s presence was revealed in their midst. The stealth U.S. operation played out in a city with a strong Pakistani military presence and without notice from Washington. Questions persisted in the administration and grew in Congress about whether some elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus might have been in collusion with al-Qaida in letting bin Laden hide in Abbottabad.

Brennan asked the question that was reverberating around the world: “How did Osama bin Laden stay at that compound for six years or so and be undetected?”

“We have many, many questions about this,” he said. “And I know Pakistani officials do as well.” Brennan said Pakistani officials were trying to determine “whether there were individuals within the Pakistani government or military intelligence services who were knowledgeable.” He questioned in particular why bin Laden’s compound hadn’t come to the attention of local authorities.

Feinstein, for her part, said Congress may consider docking the almost $1.3 billion dollars in annual aid to Pakistan if it turns out the Islamabad government knew bin Laden’s whereabouts.

In an article published Tuesday by The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country’s security forces may have sheltered bin Laden, and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint his whereabouts.

As Americans rejoiced, they worried, too, that terrorists would be newly motivated to lash out. In their wounded rage, al-Qaida ideologues fed that concern. “By God, we will avenge the killing of the Sheik of Islam,” one prominent al-Qaida commentator vowed. “Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: Let us wait a little bit.”

In that vein, U.S. officials warned that bin Laden’s death was likely to encourage attacks from “homegrown violent extremists” even if al-Qaida is not prepared to respond in a coordinated fashion now.

U.S. officials say the photographic evidence shows bin Laden was shot above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.

He was also shot in the chest, they said. This, near the end of a frenzied firefight in a high-walled Pakistani compound where helicopter-borne U.S. forces found 23 children, nine women, a bin Laden courier who had unwittingly led the U.S. to its target, a son of bin Laden who was also slain, and more.

Bin Laden could have lived at the fortified compound for up to six years, putting him far from the lawless and harsh Pakistani frontier where he had been assumed to be hiding out.

They said SEALs dropped down ropes from helicopters, killed bin Laden aides and made their way to the main building.

U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death originally came from detainees held in secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators were told of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularly trusted.

It took four long years to learn the man’s real name, then years more before investigators got a big break in the case, these officials said.

Sometime in mid-2010, the courier was overheard using a phone by intelligence officials, who then were able to locate his residence — the specially constructed $1 million compound with walls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire.

U.S. counterterrorism officials considered bombing the place, an option that was discarded by the White House as too risky, particularly if it turned out bin Laden was not there.

Panetta told Time that a “direct shot” with cruise missiles was still under consideration as late as Thursday but was ruled out because of the possibility of “too much collateral” damage. Waiting for more information also was a possibility.

Ultimately, Obama signed an order on Friday for the team of SEALs to chopper onto the compound under the cover of darkness.

In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons was killed in the raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden’s wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were the courier, and the courier’s wife and brother, U.S. intelligence officials believe.

Feinstein, asked if the information gleaned from high-value detainees in the CIA’s former secret prisons had proved the worth of such tactics, said “nothing justifies the kind of procedures used.”

Some people found at the compound were left behind when the SEALs withdrew and were turned over to Pakistani authorities who quickly took over control of the site, officials said. They identified the trusted courier as Kuwaiti-born Sheikh Abu Ahmed, who had been known under the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

Within 40 minutes, the operation was over, and the SEALs flew out — minus the helicopter that had to be destroyed. Bin Laden’s remains were flown to the USS Carl Vinson, then lowered into the North Arabian Sea.

Bin Laden’s death came 15 years after he declared war on the United States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.

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New York City police officers stand guard outside the Armed Forces recruitment center in New York's Times Square,  Monday, May 2, 2011. The Obama admihttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110502/ap_on_re_us/us_bin_laden_dna

By ROBERT BURNS and CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press Robert Burns And Calvin Woodward, Associated Press 45 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Knowing there would be disbelievers, the U.S. says it used convincing means to confirm Osama bin Laden’s identity during and after the firefight that killed him. But the mystique that surrounded the terrorist chieftain in life is persisting in death.

Was it really him? How do we know? Where are the pictures?

Already, those questions are spreading in Pakistan and surely beyond. In the absence of photos and with his body given up to the sea, many people don’t want to believe that bin Laden — the Great Emir to some, the fabled escape artist of the Tora Bora mountains to foe and friend alike — is really dead.

U.S. officials are balancing that skepticism with the sensitivities that might be inflamed by showing images they say they have of the dead al-Qaida leader and video of his burial at sea. Still, it appeared likely that photographic evidence would be produced.

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure that nobody has any basis to try to deny that we got Osama bin Laden,” John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, said Monday. He said the U.S. will “share what we can because we want to make sure that not only the American people but the world understand exactly what happened.”

In July 2009, the U.S. took heat but also quieted most conspiracy theorists by releasing graphic photos of the corpses of Saddam Hussein’s two powerful sons to prove American forces had killed them.

So far, the U.S. has cited evidence that satisfied the Navy SEAL force, and at least most of the world, that they had the right man in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The helicopter-borne raiding squad that swarmed the luxury compound identified bin Laden by appearance. A woman in the compound who was identified as his wife was said to have called out bin Laden’s name in the melee.

Officials produced a quick DNA match from his remains that they said established bin Laden’s identity, even absent the other techniques, with 99.9 percent certainty. U.S. officials also said bin Laden was identified through photo comparisons and other methods.

Tellingly, an al-Qaida spokesman, in vowing vengeance against America, called him a martyr, offering no challenge to the U.S. account of his death.

Even so, it’s almost inevitable that the bin Laden mythology will not end with the bullet in his head. If it suits extremist ends to spin a fantastical tale of survival or trickery to gullible ears, expect to hear it.

In the immediate aftermath, people in Abbottabad expressed widespread disbelief that bin Laden had died — or ever lived — among them.

“I’m not ready to buy bin Laden was here,” said Haris Rasheed, 22, who works in a fast food restaurant. “How come no one knew he was here and why did they bury him so quickly? This is all fake — a drama, and a crude one.”

Kamal Khan, 25, who is unemployed, said the official story “looks fishy to me.”

The burial from an aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea was videotaped aboard the ship, according to a senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a decision on whether to release the video was not final. The official said it was highly likely that the video, along with photographs of bin Laden’s body, would be made public in coming days.

The swiftness of the burial may have raised suspicions but was in accord with Islamic traditions. Islamic scholars, however, challenged U.S. assertions that a burial at sea was an appropriate fate for a Muslim who had died on land.

The act denied al-Qaida any sort of burial shrine for their slain leader. Once again, bin Laden had vanished, but this time at the hands of the United States and in a way that ensures he is gone forever.

If that satisfies U.S. goals and its sense of justice, Brad Sagarin, a psychologist at Northern Illinois University who studies persuasion, said the rapid disposition of the body “would certainly be a rich sort of kernel for somebody to grasp onto if they were motivated to disbelieve this.”

Also expected to come out is a tape made by bin Laden, before U.S. forces bore down on him, that may provide fodder to those who insist he is alive.

Pakistan, for one, is a land of conspiracy theorists, and far-fetched rumors abound on the streets and in blogs throughout the Arab world. But that’s not just a characteristic of the Islamic pipeline. Many ordinary Americans — and one billionaire — persistently questioned whether Obama was born in the U.S. despite lacking any evidence that he wasn’t.

Sagarin said most people will probably be convinced bin Laden is dead because they cannot imagine the government maintaining such an extraordinary lie to the contrary in this day and age.

Yet, he said, “as with the birther conspiracy, there’s going to be a set of people who are never going to be convinced. People filter the information they receive through their current attitudes, their current perspectives.”

To be sure, even photos and video, subject to digital manipulation, may not provide the final word to everyone. But Seth Jones, a RAND Corp. political scientist who advised the commander of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, said the administration should do all it can to minimize doubts.

“There are always conspiracy theories,” he said. “There are individuals who believe that bin Laden wasn’t involved in the 9/11 attacks.”

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Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi in Abbottabad, Pakistan; Malcolm Ritter in New York; and Lolita C. Baldor, Ben Feller, Matt Apuzzo and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

Libya rebels raise concern about Islamic extremism

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ml_libya_islamic_warrior

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press Tue Apr 19, 6:18 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Abdel-Moneim Mokhtar was ambushed and killed by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops last week on a dusty road in eastern Libya — the end of a journey that saw him fight as a jihadi in Afghanistan and then return home where he died alongside NATO-backed rebels trying to oust the longtime authoritarian leader.

In describing Mokhtar’s death on Friday, Gadhafi’s government said he was a member of al-Qaida — part of an ongoing attempt to link the rebels to Osama bin Laden’s group. Four years ago, al-Qaida said it had allied itself with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group — of which Mokhtar was a top military commander.

Two days before he was killed, Mokhtar denied any connection between his group and al-Qaida, telling The Associated Press in an interview: “We only fought to free Libya.”

“We realized that Gadhafi is a killer and imprisoned people, so we had to fight him,” said Mokhtar, one of a handful of rebel battalion commanders who led more than 150 rebels in eastern Libya.

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels.

NATO’s top commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, told Congress last month that officials had seen “flickers” of possible al-Qaida and Hezbollah involvement with rebel forces. But he said there was no evidence of significant numbers within the opposition leadership.

Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani of the opposition council in Benghazi said any extremists among the fighters are exceptions and that ensuring democracy is the only way to combat them.

Mokhtar, 41, of the northwestern town of Sabratha, arrived in Afghanistan at age 20 in 1990 when the mujahedeen were fighting the puppet regime installed by the Soviets before they withdrew after a decade-long war.

He fought for three years in the fields and mountains of Khost and Kandahar provinces under Jalaluddin Haqqani — a prominent commander who was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet war but has now become one of its fiercest enemies in Afghanistan.

At least 500 Libyans went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, according to The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, but Mokhtar said there aren’t many fighting with the rebels now. Many like Mokhtar who returned home were arrested or killed by Gadhafi when they announced the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the mid-1990s to challenge his rule.

Mokhtar became one of the LIFG’s top three military commanders, said Anes Sharif, another member of the group who has known him for almost two decades.

Mokhtar was in charge in southern Libya and planned several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including one in 1996 when a militant threw a grenade at the ruler near the southern desert town of Brak that failed to explode, Sharif said.

“Abdel-Moneim was the man who organized, prepared and mastered all those kinds of operations,” said Sharif, who is from the northeastern town of Darna, which has been a hotbed of Islamist activity.

The LIFG also waged attacks against Gadhafi’s security forces. But the Libyan leader cracked down on the group, especially in Darna and what is now the rebel-held capital of Benghazi.

“The worst fight was against Gadhafi in the 1990s,” Mokhtar said. “If he captured us, he would not only torture us but our families as well.”

The response forced many members of the group, including Mokhtar, to flee abroad, Sharif said. Mokhtar left in the late 1990s and only returned after the current uprising began, Sharif said.

“We don’t have many experienced commanders in the battlefield. That’s why I’m out here,” said Mokhtar, his full black beard peppered with gray as he stood outside Ajdabiya surrounded by rebel pickup trucks bristling with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

Al-Qaida announced in 2007 that it had allied with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the group was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Both Mokhtar and Sharif denied the connection, saying it was never endorsed by the group’s leadership.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly renounced violence in 2009 following about three years of negotiations with Libyan authorities — including with Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In a statement at the time, the group insisted it had “no link to the al-Qaida organization in the past and has none now.”

The Libyan government released more than 100 members of the LIFG in recent years as part of the negotiations. Sharif said the group changed its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change before the current uprising.

British authorities believe the LIFG has stood by its pledge of nonviolence, and has no ties to al-Qaida — though acknowledge that other Libyans command senior positions in the terror group’s hierarchy, including Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida’s Afghanistan commander.

“They clearly are still committed to an Islamist world view, but don’t subscribe to terrorist tactics any more,” said Ghaffar Hussain, who works on deradicalization projects for the Quilliam Foundation, a British anti-extremism think tank.

“Some former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group figures have decided to join the rebels, mainly because they remain opposed to Gadhafi’s regime — but there is no sign of them reforming as a jihadist organization,” he said.

However, Hussain said there was clear evidence that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the al-Qaida offshoot which U.S. officials believe poses the most immediate terror threat to America — was trying to join the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces.

“The rebels are being very careful to keep a distance from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing the damage that any associated with them would do to their cause,” Hussain said.

Since the uprising began in February, Gadhafi has played up fears that the rebels include fighters from al-Qaida, but no evidence has surfaced to support the accusations.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday night that Mokhtar “has been an al-Qaida member since the ’80s,” although he offered no evidence. He called him by his tribal name, al-Madhouni, and said he “fought in many countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and Libya” and was wanted by “international authorities.”

A U.S. intelligence official said that Mokhtar has been involved in extremist activities in Afghanistan and Libya since the 1990s. He may not have been in lockstep with al-Qaida at the time of his death, but he’s been “a fellow traveler in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The official concluded that it’s too early to know whether Mokhtar and other members of his group have abandoned their previous extremist tendencies.

Mokhtar said in the interview that he, Sharif and other members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group still have the same passion to oust Gadhafi, but added they no longer aspire to set up an Islamic state.

Instead, they say their goal is the same as the rebels’ National Transitional Council: a democratic government that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“We are here only to fight for freedom, and that is our only goal,” Mokhtar said.

“We want a free Libya and a government for all Libyans — a government that doesn’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is run by a constitution and respects Islam,” he added.

Sharif, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s political division and has been working with the rebels as well, said years of experience have convinced them that most Libyans don’t want to live under a strict Islamic regime. But he did believe that politicians with conservative Islamic views will attract the most support in Libya.

“The West needs to understand that there is a difference between Islamic culture and radicalization,” Sharif said.

Another area of concern for the West has been the relatively high number of Libyans who have gone to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq. One study done by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2008 found that Libyans represented the second largest group of foreign fighters and ranked first per capita.

Sharif said a small number of radical Islamists do exist in Libya, but he said the best way to deal with them is to get rid of Gadhafi, whose repressive policies have exacerbated extremism in the country.

“In an environment where everybody is respected and is allowed to carry out their religion without fear of being tortured, arrested or killed, there is no extremism,” said Sharif.

He also said that the rebels are committed to keeping foreign fighters out of Libya — a sentiment echoed by others on the battlefield.

“The rebels are determined not to allow al-Qaida or any other non-Libyans to have a base here,” Sharif said. “We don’t want the country to be a battlefield for other groups to finish their wars. We don’t want to see Libya as another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

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Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

Fierce fighting in key city in west Libya kills 17

In this  picture taken through a bus window during a trip organized by Libyan authorities, an anti-aircraft gun deployed on the outskirts of Tripoli, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 1 hr 1 min ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Holding out under a rain of shelling and sniper fire, Libyan rebels fought Moammar Gadhafi’s forces Sunday in close-quarters battles in the city center of Misrata, the last major rebel foothold in western Libya. Seventeen people were killed, an NGO worker and an opposition activist said.

Government troops have been laying siege to the city on Libya’s Mediterranean coast for weeks, prompting repeated international warnings of a dire humanitarian situation as well as calls for NATO forces to intensify airstrikes on Gadhafi’s forces there.

On Sunday, government troops, who have pushed into the city center from the outskirts in recent days, pounded Misrata with mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, said resident Abdel-Salam, who only provided his given name for fear of retribution.

“Residents have become so accustomed to the sound of mortars and missiles,” he said. “Snipers are still on the roofs of tall buildings shooting at anything that moves in the city center.”

Rebels fought government forces back from an area around a central produce market, regaining a small sliver of territory, said Rida al-Montasser, a local activist reached by Skype.

He said a hospital report that he received from a doctor, showed 17 people, including rebels, were killed and 74 others were injured. He said Gadhafi forces had fired at the city’s hospital Sunday.

A worker for a foreign NGO who visited the hospital Sunday also said 17 bodies were brought in, including that of a girl shot in the head. Other children who had been shot were among the wounded, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

Explosions thundered late into the night, al-Montasser said.

The NATO-led air campaign authorized by the U.N. to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone has failed to stop government shelling that, according to residents and witnesses, has hit Misrata’s hospital, the port and residential areas.

The international airstrikes have kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to turn the tide in the war. In the eastern half of Libya, rebels in control of most of that part of the country since the uprising began on Feb. 15 have been unable to advance westward toward the capital.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet dismissed statements from a top NATO official that the alliance is short of aircraft. Longuet said instead that NATO’s mission in Libya is hampered by a lack of ground information.

“There is no lack of planes but a lack of identification of mobile objectives,” he said in an interview published Sunday in the daily Le Parisien. “The problem is that we’re missing concrete and verifiable information on identified objectives on the ground.”

Longuet said that “coalition aviation is capable of breaking all logistical provisions of Gadhafi’s troops” to the east. But he acknowledged that in urban combat, “if the aviation avoids tragedies, it still isn’t solving the problem.”

After a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week in Berlin, the alliance’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO needed “a small number of precision aircraft” to hit Gadhafi’s forces.

“I’m hopeful that nations will step up to the plate,” he said, noting that the two-day Berlin meeting was not held to solicit new pledges of support.

The need for the additional aircraft comes as the situation has changed on the ground, Fogh Rasmussen said.

In eastern Libya on Sunday, government forces shelled the eastern edge of Ajdabiya, the front-line rebel town that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.

Loud booms rocked the city throughout the morning, sending a column of cars — some with rebel fighters, others with families — fleeing north through a thick sandstorm to more securely held rebel territory.

Rebel forces fired back with rockets and no government forces entered the city, said rebel fighter Awad Sathi.

The Libyan government has come under sharp international criticism for its assault on Misrata and has been accused by human rights groups of using heavy weapons, including shells, missiles and cluster bombs. Such bombs can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by many countries.

In Tripoli, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied the allegations Sunday, telling a small gathering of foreign diplomats: “Don’t believe the lies.”

Maj. Gen. Saleh Ibrahim denied Libyan forces have used cluster bombs, saying the army did not have such weapons and that Libyan soldiers had not been trained in their use.

On Sunday, spokesman Ibrahim said NATO is taking sides in the conflict and renewed claims that fighters from the al-Qaida terror network have joined the rebels.

“NATO is supporting the rebels, allowing them to advance against our army, providing them with air cover,” he said. “It knows about the arming of rebels by the Qatari government and is allowing that. NATO knows about al-Qaida activities in Benghazi, Darna and Beyda. It knows that al-Qaida fighters are advancing westbound.”

___

Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Tripoli, Libya, and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110309/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Riaz Khan, Associated Press 5 mins ago

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide bomber struck a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 36 mourners and wounding more than 100 in the deadliest militant attack in the country this year. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

The blast near the city of Peshawar was not far from the tribally administered regions bordering Afghanistan where militants are at their strongest. The area struck is home to several tribal armies that battle the Pakistani branches of the Taliban with the government’s encouragement.

Police officer Zahid Khan said about 300 people were attending the funeral for the wife of a militiaman in the Matani area when the bomber struck. TV footage showed men picking up bloodied sandals and caps from a dusty, open space where mourners had gathered.

Witnesses said the bomber, who appeared to be in his late teens, showed up at the funeral just as it was about to begin.

“We thought this youth was coming to attend the funeral, but he suddenly detonated a bomb,” survivor Syed Alam Khan said.

Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said the insurgents targeted the militiamen because they were allied with the Pakistani government and, effectively, the United States.

“We will carry out more such attacks if they did not stop their activities,” he said via phone from an undisclosed location.

Militia commander Dilawar Khan said he would consult his fighters and local elders about whether to keep battling the Taliban, insisting that the government did not provide them with the resources they need.

Another witness, Farman Ullah, complained that there was no police security in place for the funeral.

“It was the duty of the government to provide us security, but it did not do it,” he said.

The main hospital in Peshawar received at least 36 bodies and more than 100 wounded after the blast, hospital official Jamal Shah said.

Al-Qaida and Taliban militants are waging a bloody war against the Pakistani state from their bases in the northwest. The army has launched several offensives against the Islamist extremists but has also encouraged the formation of private militias to help out in the fight.

While human rights groups are alarmed at the state ceding authority to armed civilians, the government has praised the role of the militias in battling the Taliban or holding ground retaken from them.

Police in Peshawar said late last year that the militias in Matani were essential in stopping Taliban infiltration into the city.

The militiamen operate from heavily fortified compounds in the region and have seen their influence rise. But commanders have complained they do not get enough government help.

The army says it is winning the war against militants, but bombings still regularly strike in much of the country. On Tuesday, at least 20 people were killed in a car bombing in Punjab province.

Also Wednesday, police in Pakistan’s largest city said they had arrested four Pakistani Taliban militants after a tip and a shootout, but four alleged insurgents managed to escape. The militants were believed to be planning attacks in Karachi, a southern city of 18 million, senior police official Mohammad Aslam said.

Police showed reporters four hooded men who they said were the suspects. They also displayed an explosives-laden sucide jacket, assault rifles and other weapons they said they recovered late Tuesday.

Karachi has a history of sectarian, political and ethnic violence. Officials say Pakistani Taliban fighters, who tend to be based in the northwest, increasingly use Karachi as a hide-out.

In the country’s southwest, a landmine exploded next to a vehicle in Dera Bugti area of southwestern Baluchistan province, killing five people and wounding 18, government official Shoaib Jadoon said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. But Baluchistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency which wants the province to have more autonomy and a greater share of the money derived from its natural resources.

____

Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

Ya’ll read this and tell me what you think.

6 killed as Iraqis protest in ‘Day of Rage’

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110225/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press 1 hr 30 mins ago

BAGHDAD – Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq on Friday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests here since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.

The protests, billed as a “Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.

“We want a good life like human beings, not like animals,” said Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in the capital Baghdad.

Like many Iraqis, he railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified Green Zone, home to the parliament and the U.S. Embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service.

The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted “No to unemployment,” and “No to the liar al-Maliki,” referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, said police and hospital officials.

Click image to see photos of protests in Iraq

The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government’s seeming inability to improve their lives.

A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city’s municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.

Security forces trying to block the crow opened fire, killing three demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore order.

In Mosul, also in northern Iraq, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, according to a police official. A police and hospital official said three protesters were killed and 15 people wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.

Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.

In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad. They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation, saying he’d done nothing to improve city services.

They appeared to get their wish when the commander of Basra military operations, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, told the crowd that the governor had resigned in response to the demonstrations. Iraqi state TV announced that the prime minister had asked the governor to step down but did not mention the protests.

Around 1,000 demonstrators also clashed with police in the western city of Fallujah 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad clashed with authorities, witnesses said. And in the southern city of Karbala, about 1,000 protesters rallied for better services.

In recent weeks, there had been scattered anti-government protests in Iraq. While most have been peaceful, a few have turned violent and seven people have been killed. The biggest rallies have been in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, against the government of the self-ruled region.

On the even of the marches, al-Maliki urged people to skip the rally, which he alleged was organized by Saddamists and al-Qaida — two of his favorite targets of blame for an array of Iraq’s ills. He offered no evidence to support his claim.

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