Libya's secret war pits Islam against Gaddafi

MICHAEL SHERIDAN

Diplomatic Editor

An underground war has broken out in Libya between Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's secular regime and Islamic militants, threatening the stability of his 26-year rule with a series of shoot-outs and Algeria-style assassinations of secret policemen.

The old Italian colonial port of Benghazi has become the scene of ambushes and night-time gunfights. Last week, Islamic activists in the city claimed to have shot dead Lieutenant Colonel Jum'ah Al- Faydi, of Libyan intelligence. A week earlier, gunmen ambushed the head of a special unit set up to combat the religious opposition.

From the suburbs of Tripoli in the west, along the Mediterranean seaboard to Benghazi, Darnah and Al Bayda in the east, similar incidents have claimed dozens of lives through a simmering hot summer. In an ominous signal to Colonel Gaddafi, the trouble seems most intense in the eastern region, through which Libya's vital oil exports reach tankers bound for Europe.

In response, the regime's security services, trained by the old East German Stasi, have carried out mass arrests of Muslim activists and launched a violent campaign of repression, according to Western officials.

"The situation in Libya seems to be approaching a point of no return," said the Islamic human rights group Liberty for the Muslim World, in a statement this week. "Unless the Libyan regime undergoes essential reforms, the tide of violence will sweep the entire country," it said. "Libya is the third north African country after Egypt and Algeria to be driven into this dark tunnel by the unwise and confused policies of its rulers."

The group gave details of the Benghazi attacks and reported other clashes, including a siege in Darnah during which the security forces fired rockets at a fundamentalist hideout before storming the building. It listed 10 incidents which claimed the lives of 10 militants and nine security men.

The violence has drawn Colonel Gaddafi into conflict with members of the esoteric Senussi sect, which in pre- revolutionary Libya commanded adherents from the deserts to the coast for its ascetic, fundamentalist brand of Islam.

Secret police in Al Bayda are said to have arrested a prominent sect member, Abu Alraiqah, last month, together with 80 members of a powerful local tribe. Such measures pit the security apparatus against an influential, deep- rooted network in Libyan society whose charismatic founder united its warring tribes a century ago.

This clandestine struggle is a new, and doubtless alarming, source of pressure on Colonel Gaddafi, whose country is subject to United Nations sanctions for its refusal to extradite two intelligence agents sought on charges in connection with the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

Flights to and from the country are banned. Libya's delegate to the World Bank, Mohammed Bait Elmal, this week said the ban had cost his country over $10bn (pounds 6.4bn). He claimed that 685 Libyan children had died because of delays in getting medical supplies and that 13,500 patients had been unable to receive treatment abroad.

The UN also imposed restrictions on arms sales and diplomatic contacts. In addition, it in effect put Colonel Gaddafi's economy in a noose by requiring all payments for Libyan oil to be made through designated accounts. These could be frozen at any moment by further Security Council action.

The combination of economic decline, international isolation and domestic unrest poses the greatest threat to Colonel Gaddafi since he seized power in a coup in 1969. The new violence reflects a dangerous regional division in Libya. Foreign businessmen detect a possible fragmentation of the regime into competing tribal interest groups. Western intelligence sources say the pressure of sanctions has set off conflicts inside the vague and flexible Libyan power structure.

After the Islamic insurrection in Algeria and a fundamentalist guerrilla campaign against the Egyptian government, this violence will cause renewed concern in Europe. The question of Mediterranean security is high on the agenda for the Spanish presidency of the European Union, which has called a conference on the issue in Barcelona later this autumn.

Colonel Gaddafi has sent emissaries to hold secret talks with Western intelligence officials in Geneva in an effort to win concessions on the sanctions. He has gained none. Libya, like Iraq and Syria, is now living out the reality of the collapse of radical nationalism in the Arab world.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam