Libyan Military Judge Sheds Light on the Mysteries of Qaddafi’s Regime

Andrew McGregor

September 23, 2011

Muhammad Bashir al-Khaddar, a senior military judge in the Qaddafi regime for 25 years, has provided inside details of the workings of the regime in an interview with a pan-Arab daily (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 17). Al-Khaddar’s revelations appear to be an attempt to rehabilitate his image in advance of running as a candidate in the elections expected to follow the consolidation of the rebel victory in Libya.

Among the issues discussed by al-Khaddar was the infamous 1996 two-day massacre of Islamist prisoners at Tripoli’s Abu Salim Prison, run by Libya’s Internal Security Agency (Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation, July 26, 2008; see also Terrorism Focus Brief, July 29, 2008). It was protests over the Libyan regime’s continued failure to provide details of exactly what happened at Abu Salim that sparked the ongoing revolution in February.

According to al-Khaddar, he was assigned by acting Defense Minister General Abu Bakr Yunus Jabir to investigate the massacre of over 1200 prisoners following a 2009 court order for the government to release information on missing militants, but al-Khaddar admits that he knew little of the incident at the time,believing that it was nothing more than a group of prisoners who attempted to escape, with between four and ten prisoners being killed…” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 10, 2009).  Official documents were “useless” to his investigation and interviews with prison officers unproductive (e.g. “I was eating lunch [when the massacre took place]”), so al-Khaddar changed tack and interviewed the prison officers in their homes, yielding much better results, though his investigations were still hampered by the fact that those responsible for ordering the massacre remained in power.

Abu Salim Prison, Tripoli

Al-Khaddar gave a figure of 1,257 dead in the slaughter that followed after Islamists and some “ordinary people” demanded their rights as prisoners and an improvement in conditions. Though the judge was unable to find documentation or conduct interviews directly implicating Libya’s leaders in ordering the massacre, al-Khaddar is convinced the orders came from the top: “When you are dealing with Libya you must be aware of one important truth; Mu’ammar Qaddafi was even aware of when a chicken was slaughtered. Although there is nothing on paper, telephone calls did take place between Qaddafi and [Qaddafi brother-in-law and then head of Libyan military intelligence] Abdullah Senussi…and this resulted in the order to fire.”

Qaddafi refused to read the report until convinced to do so by General Mustafa al-Kharrubi, a member of the original Libyan Revolution Command Council that seized power in 1969. The Libyan leader was displeased by al-Khaddar’s efforts, but the outbreak of the revolution in February spared al-Khaddar from the wrath of Qaddafi, who suddenly had more pressing concerns. General al-Kharubbi was reported to have surrendered to the rebels in late August (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 25). However, al-Khaddar says he no longer has a copy of the report since he fled the country in February and urges the rebels to find it and read it. The Libyan judge claims he feared for his life once the revolution broke out: “I was afraid of being assassinated because the Abu Salim [massacre] is at the heart of the 17 February revolution.”

Al-Khaddar says he was also placed in charge of the investigation into the disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr as Chief Prosecutor of Tripoli. Musa Sadr, the Iranian-born founder of the Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (AMAL – Lebanese Resistance Detachments), disappeared along with two companions during a 1978 visit to Tripoli.

Despite the passage of 33 years since the disappearance, there have been constant rumors that the Imam was still alive in a Libyan prison. Only a few months ago, Hezbollah leader Shaykh Hassan Nasrallah expressed his hope that al-Sadr (who would now be 81-years-old) would soon be released after Libyan officers fleeing to Egypt reported he was still alive:  “We are looking forward to the day when Sadr can be liberated from this dictatorial tyrant” (al-Manar, March 20; al-Arabiya, February 23).  Libya has long claimed the three men left Libya for Italy in 1978, but Italian officials state the men never entered the country. Sa’if al-Qaddafi admitted in an interview with Iranian TV in February that al-Sadr and his companions had never left Libya (Press TV, February 22). Mu’ammar Qaddafi was indicted in 2008 by a Lebanese judge for kidnapping al-Sadr (Now Lebanon, August 27, 2008; Press TV, August 27, 2008).

Al-Khaddar’s account would seem to partially confirm details provided earlier by Abd al-Moneim al-Houni, Libya’s former ambassador to the Arab League, who claimed in an interview that al-Sadr had been shot and killed by the regime and buried somewhere in southern Libya  (al-Hayat, February 23).

Al-Khaddar, citing guards who witnessed the event, claims that al-Sadr met with Qaddafi, but their five hour meeting degenerated into a vicious religious argument in which al-Sadr told the Libyan leader he was “an infidel,” while Qaddafi came close to physically assaulting the Imam. On Qaddafi’s order al-Sadr was then killed and buried in Sirte, but his body was later transferred to Sabha in the Libyan interior and then moved to another location in the south. Al-Khaddar said a body had been discovered in a freezer in Tripoli on September 16 that might belong to Abbas Badr al-Din, a Lebanese journalist who accompanied al-Sadr to Libya, though al-Khaddar speculates that the body of al-Sadr’s other companion, Shaykh Muhammad Yaqub, was likely hidden in a cemetery.

Al-Khaddar also insisted that former Libyan foreign minister Ibrahim al-Bashari and former Libyan justice minister Ibrahim Bakkar were both murdered on Qaddafi’s orders. According to the Libyan judge, al-Bashari was killed in al-Khums, a coastal district between Tripoli and Misrata, which al-Khaddar claims was a preferred killing ground for the regime.

Al-Khaddar, who is considering a run at president once elections are held, suggests that long-term officials in the Qaddafi regime should not be overlooked in forming a new government: “Everyone who served in the Gaddafi regime but who kept his hands clean and did not seize public money should have a large role in governing Libya. The current method of removing all those who worked with Gaddafi should be avoided.”

This article first appeared in the September 16, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

A Revolution is Not a Jihad: A Salafist View of the Arab Spring

Andrew McGregor

September 23, 2011

MaoMao Zedong once famously said “A revolution is not a dinner party.” Now, according to a Jordanian Salafi-Jihadist ideologue, “A revolution for a loaf of bread is not a jihad.”  Ahmad Bawadi, a frequent contributor to jihadi internet forums, made this the central point of his analysis of the revolutions of the “Arab Spring” in an essay that appeared on jihadi websites entitled “Revolutions Are No Substitute for Jihad” (, September 17).

Bawadi insists that the concepts of freedom and democracy inhibit the realization of a Shari’a state, as do improper motivations; only devoting their revolutionary banners to the “Deen [religion] of Allah” will bring the revolutionaries the security they desire:  “The state of Islam will not be established by a revolution for a loaf of bread, if that revolution was not undertaken for the sake of the Deen and Shari’a of Allah.”

According to Bawadi, revolutions carried out in the name of economic or political reforms are insufficient to promote the social and moral transformation required by the true jihad:

No one should think that a revolution over unemployment will close the wine shops and nightclubs. They will not prevent women from going outside wearing make-up and unveiled and will not prevent them from showing their nakedness at pools and on the beaches. The networks of singing, dancing, prostitution and shamelessness will not be shut down by these revolutions, if they are not indeed the catalyst and motivator for these sins, when freedom and democracy become the religion and constitution of the people and are an alternative to Jihad

Bawadi warns that states established on the principles other than those found in the Shari’a “would be like the Buyid state and require new Seljuqs to deal with them.” The reference is to the Buyid Empire, a Shi’a Persian dynasty that ruled Iraq and Iran in the 10th and 11th centuries, but which drew heavily upon the symbolism and rituals of the pre-Islamic Sassanid Empire before falling to the Seljuq Turks in the mid-11th century.

Addressing those who have overthrown the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, and those who appear to be on the brink of doing the same in Libya, Bawadi reminds them that overthrowing a tyrant does not give them the right to become a regent themselves or to fashion constitutions “that accord with [their] whims and desires.”

The apparent irrelevance of al-Qaeda and other Salafi-Jihadist movements to the momentous political shifts in the Arab world is something of a sore point for ideologues such as Bawadi; even though the revolution in Egypt has inspired a reappraisal of Egypt’s relationship with Israel in a way no number of lectures from Ayman al-Zawahiri could achieve, Bawadi nevertheless warns that: “These revolutions and their people will not recover Palestine, nor will they take the place of jihad and the mujahideen and expel the invaders and conspirators from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.”

Bawadi urges scholars and preachers to advise the ummah [Islamic community] that they have a duty to “raise the banner of Islam in these revolutions.” Preachers should avoid becoming sidetracked by becoming occupied with disputes or issuing Shari’a rulings, noting that injustice and oppression have led to the people “acting spontaneously” without waiting for a Shari’a ruling.  In Bawadi’s view, “the courses of these revolutions must be diverted” onto the path of jihad and the Muslim scholars and preachers must remember “it is they who are the leaders of the ummah.”

This article first appeared in the September 23, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Trial of “7/11” Bombers Begins in Kampala as Opposition Claims Government Manipulates Terrorist Threat

Andrew McGregor

September 16, 2011

Proceedings have opened in the Kampala trial of over a dozen East African men suspected of involvement in the July 11, 2010 suicide bombings of crowds gathered in Kampala to watch the World Cup soccer championship (see Terrorism Focus, September 24, 2008; Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 15, 2010). Responsibility for the attacks, which killed 74 civilians and came to be known in Uganda as the “7/11 bombings,” were later claimed by al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage, who described them as “a message to Uganda and Burundi” to withdraw their troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) (Shabelle Media Network, July 12, 2010; Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13, 2010).

The trial began with the liberation of Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi and four other men, bringing the total number of suspects on trial to 14 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12; September 13). Kimathi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, was detained along with his lawyer Mbugua Mureithi on September 15, 2010 when they visited Kampala to oppose the extradition of Kenyans to Uganda to face charges related to the 7/11 bombings. Mureithi was quickly freed and deported, but Kimathi was forced to spend a year in prison after being charged with murder and terrorism (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12).

Omar Awadh Omar (left) and Al-Amin Kimathi

Two of the suspects pleaded guilty on September 12 to playing a role in the Kampala bombings. One of the two, Mohamoud Mugisha, told the court that he had participated in a conspiracy drawn up in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, revealing the growing regional scope of al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 13).

Of the remaining suspects, the most prominent are Omar Awadh Omar (a.k.a. Abu Sahal), a Kenyan described as the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa and an important logistician for both that group and Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement, Hijar Seleman Nyamadondo, a Tanzanian deported from that country to face charges of being second-in-command of the Kampala plot, and Issa Luyima, a Ugandan arrested in Mombasa who is believed to have fought with al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 12).

Despite the high local profile of the Kampala bombing trial, there are reports that the once heightened vigilance that followed the bombings has now declined to almost nothing (The Independent [Kampala], September 10). Uganda’s opposition has complained that the government is using terrorist alerts to suppress public assembly and foil attempts to demonstrate against the government. Many alerts have come at the same time as popular “walk-to-work” protests over economic conditions within Uganda. Uganda’s Director of Counter Terrorism, Abas Byakagaba, suggests that such complaints are the work of “cynical people” who “misinterpret us” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 9).

Kenyan Muslim groups such as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims have appealed to the Nairobi government to bring the ten Kenyan 7/11 suspects back for trial in their homeland, citing a willingness expressed by the Ugandan government to allow the transfer (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 14). A September 11 rally of concerned Muslims in Nairobi called on the government to work for the release of Kenyans being detained in Uganda and the United States. National Human Rights Commission member Hassan Omar said at the rally that the Ugandan government had indicated it is waiting for Kenya to claim her people.” Omar and three other Kenyan human rights activists were deported from Uganda in April after arriving in Kampala to seek the release of the Kenyan suspects (Nairobi Star, September 11).

Kenyans underwent a scare recently when reports emerged that security services had arrested 40 to 50 Ugandans at a guesthouse in Nairobi who were reportedly on their way to Afghanistan, possibly for involvement in terrorist activities according to local security services. However, after the men were deported to Uganda and taken to Kampala for questioning, it turned out that the suspected jihadis had actually been duped into making payments to a bogus recruiting firm claiming to place security guards for high-paying jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq (Daily Monitor, August 20; New Vision, August 18).


Was the Battle for Galkayo a Clan Dispute or a Victory for Puntland over al-Shabaab?

Andrew McGregor

September 16, 2011

A gun battle between militants and Puntland security forces in Galkayo (the capital of Mudug region) on September 1 and 2 has left 68 dead and 153 wounded. The administration of the autonomous Somali province of Puntland announced the defeat of a group of al-Shabaab fighters in the battle in Puntland’s second-most populous city, but there are serious questions as to whether security forces were engaged with al-Shabaab or were actually fighting in a clan-based conflict.

The insistence of both President Abdirahman Muhammad Mohamud “Farole” and Puntland security minister Kalif Isse Mudan that Puntland security forces were battling al-Shabaab militants was challenged by the president’s own terrorism advisor, General Muhammad Dahir Shimbir, who said his unit’s investigation of the incident had revealed only local residents “mostly from one clan” involved in the fighting. The General further suggested that the massive number of killed and wounded could not be justified (Raxanreeb Radio, September 11).  A hospital and various hotels were also reported to have suffered from damage inflicted during the fight and subsequent looting by government forces (RBC Radio, September 10). Mortars and artillery are reported to have been used by Puntland forces.