Libyan Islamic Fighting Group lays down arms
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 22/07/09
Terrorism experts in the Maghreb suggest that the recent announcement by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) that it would sever its ties with al-Qaeda indicates a real problem with morale inside the terrorist network's Maghreb operation.
The Libyan terrorist group made its announcement in an open letter on July 3rd. The statement's eight points also denounced armed violence, declaring it an "unsuccessful option".
The letter – published on numerous Islamist websites – uncovered a history of dialogue between the LIFG and the Libyan regime dating back more than two years.
After evaluating their previous experiences, LIFG leadership determined that violence against the regime and the public did not achieve the desired results, which remain "removal of injustice against people and realisation of the important Sharia interests".
The LIFG is distinct from other fighting groups, the letter states, in its compliance with Sharia and "alienation from many wrong practices, such as... arbitrary bombings, sabotage of public and private property and targeting of civilians".
Therefore, the letter concludes, "we back the decision to stop all military acts inside Libya, and we adhere to the policy of not opening any external fronts, whatever the reason".
Monia Ferjani, a Tunisian specialist on Islamic groups, said the group's decision suggests serious divisions within the movement.
"Their choice of talks, rather than violence, is an indication of their weakness," she told Magharebia. "They never believed in talks before. The Libyan regime has cracked down on them by arresting their leaders, and their image in the West has been affected."
"They have nothing left but reconciliation with the regime," she continued, "but this reconciliation will cost them certain concessions which will drive away supporters."
The declaration was preceded by a release issued last March by the imprisoned emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah Al Sadek. In the statement, Belhaj praised efforts by Seif al-Islam al-Kadhafi to create an atmosphere of trust between the LIFG and the state that facilitated the difficult talks.
Abu al-Laith al-Libi created controversy within the LIFG in 2007 when he advocated an alliance with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. LIFG leaders initially rejected the decision and called for its revision, but al-Libi was killed in a US air raid in the Pakistani province of Waziristan in 2008 before the completion of the talks.
"The announcement of the LIFG represents a huge moral blow to many violent groups," said one Libyan journalist and expert in radical groups.
"It's more of a symbolic blow to al-Qaeda than a tactical loss on the ground," he continued, "as the LIFG has never been a source of real threat to the regime. I think that the move comes at the right time, given the increase of regional movements to stop the spread of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which seems to have made a forward base in Mali to hit the interests of the region's countries."
One signatory was asked to comment on the "letter to stop jihad" in Libya Al-Mostakbal. The former LIFG member wrote: "Practically speaking, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group is over; it has very few members. Although this reality is painful, it remains the undeniable truth."
"The fact that Abu Yahya or Abu al-Laith [al-Libi] appear now and then in the media doesn't mean that the group still exists," he continued. "Since its formation, the group was known to operate in the Libyan arena only; it never entered into regional alliances, and will never do."
He also dispelled rumours that the members who signed the letter were coerced. "[T]he release was signed by brothers the group trusts and whose opinions it respects. It has asked them more than once to write, but it was only possible after a long period of examination and discussion. I was one of the signatories to the release, and I know quite well the details of the dialogue and its circumstances. It is not true that the brothers signed it under any pressure."
Tunisian political analyst Borhane Besais said the decision of the LIFG to sever ties with al-Qaeda and to lay down arms is "an indication of the retraction of the influence of violent takfirist groups in the Maghreb region and the drop of their ability to further recruit or manoeuvre".
Twenty-nine Libyans wanted by the authorities for their affiliations with extremist groups returned home from overseas exile last week, after the Libyan government passed a law granting amnesty in return for repentance. The Al Gaddafi Foundation paved the way for many of these repatriations.
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