Because his downfall was engineered by the same means as Saddam Hussein's (see the previous article), Muammar Qaddafi may well decide to take a leaf out of the former Iraqi ruler's book of terror. Just as Saddam went into partnership with al Qaeda for unleashing a guerilla and terror war against the Americans, Qaddafi could decide to throw in his lot with Al Qaida in the Maghreb – AQIM.
Like the late Iraqi ruler, he detests Al Qaeda. But expedience is the rule. Qaddafi would argue that NATO, like the Americans in Iraq, left him very few choices for surviving and therefore pushed him into the arms of the Islamist extremists.
But meanwhile, Al Qaeda has established a presence in the ranks of Qaddafi's enemies.
Washington, London, Paris and NATO refuse to acknowledge that Mustafa Muhammad Abdul Jalil's National Transitional Council in Benghazi has a covert Al Qaeda component. They prefer to believe this fervent Muslim when he pledges to follow the path of "Islam Wassat" (Islam of the Golden Mean) in ruling Libya after he is ensconced in Tripoli.
This is contradicted by the unambiguous intelligence evidence that Jalil used al Qaeda to assassinate the rebel chief of staff Gen. Abdel Fateh Younis on July 28 in the sand dunes outside the rebel stronghold.
They owned a common interest in his demise: The Libyan rebel leader wanted to get rid of the overly charismatic general who advocated negotiations and compromise with Qaddafi.
Al Qaeda saw in him a pro-Western figure. By assassinating him they sought to make Jalil more dependent on them.
Al Qaeda plays both sides of the Libyan divide
In their haste to get the rebel administration up and running in Tripoli, the West is also setting aside for now the question of the NTC leader's close association with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and the prominent Islamic scholar Sheikh Ali al-Salabi – both of whom candidly advocate the institution of Shari law in Libya rather than a Western-style parliamentary constitution.
But NATO has at least defined the problem. The Western units leading the march on Tripoli Sunday, Aug. 21, chose a rebel force dominated by fighters from western Libya who dislike al Qaeda and kept the Benghazi increment small, calculating it would contain Al Qaeda elements from Damah east of the rebel capital, where they are concentrated.
But that is only a temporary remedy. NATO will not be able to keep Islamic extremists out of Tripoli because Abdul Jalil, its only realistic candidate for heading the post-Qaddafi regime, will insist on bringing along all the forces loyal to him.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counterterrorism sources see al Qaeda playing both sides in the Libyan conflict for the highest gains: Abdul Jalil will be able to offer them a share in government so long as they maintain a low profile and don't provoke Western attention, while the deposed ruler Qaddafi can give them the chance of a shot in a terrorist campaign against his enemies in Libya and the European allies who encompassed his downfall.
Al Qaeda may decide to go with both, except that the decision rests not with its Libyan branch but with Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM, who affirmed his group's solidarity with the Libyan rebels six months ago when NATO first launched its Libya campaign.
Al Qaeda sets its sights on Algeria too
AQIM leaders will be guided not just by internal Libyan considerations but the broader picture which would also include their chances of attaining power in next door Algeria.
Since Saturday, August 20, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been holding emergency consultations with his armed forces and intelligence chiefs on ways of preventing the spillover of the Libyan insurgency and of stopping Al Qaeda incursions into Algeria.
His forces have failed to stem the flow of weapons from the Libyan rebel center of Benghazi to AQIM which began five months ago. Western and Russian intelligence sources report AQIM is now the best-armed military power in the region, having accumulated an arsenal bigger than the regular armies of Chad, Niger and Mali.
Sunday 21.8, the day Western-backed rebel forces marched into Tripoli, Algeria's high command placed its ground units on the Libyan border on the highest alert and increased the number of flyovers and air reconnaissance operations.
This was in response to unusual movements of quasi-military 4 x 4 vehicles in the Bezai and Ouaker regions of southern Algerian in the vicinity of the Libyan border.
Qaddafi's downfall has in other words given AQIM a strong edge in the competition among rival Arab-Muslim groups and organizations vying for control of North Africa countries.
Qaddafi's ouster opens Tripoli's door to al Qaeda
Up until now, the contest in Tripoli was fought behind the scenes and Al Qaeda kept its head down. But its anti-Western doctrine and terrorist ways are unchanged.
Therefore, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources, by opening the door of Tripoli for an Al Qaeda-backed party to take power, London, Paris and NATO are repeating the mistake the US of the 1980s made in Afghanistan.
On December 27, 1979, 700 Soviet troops, including undercover KGB and GRU forces attired in Afghan uniforms, occupied key government, military and media buildings in Kabul before moving on to their primary target, the Tajbeg Presidential Palace. Once inside, Russian Special Forces killed the Afghan president Hafizullah Amin.
The US used this episode as a lever for mobilizing with the help of Saudi and Egyptian intelligence an army of thousands of jihad fighters to free Afghanistan from the Russian invaders. The CIA gave them funds and arms – and even developed special weapons systems for combating Red Army strike helicopters and tanks. And so Al Qaeda was born.
Fourteen years hence, in September, 2001, those same jihadi fighters attacked the Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
It is quite possible that when AQIM decides to hit London and Paris from handy launching pads in Libya – or possibly Algeria, David Cameron will no longer be prime minister or Nicolas Sarkozy President of France. But the fast-moving drama in Tripoli this week undoubtedly planted the seeds for Al Qaeda attacks on Britain and France.