Peace Has Returned to Eastern Libyan Town, but Al Qaida-Linked Group Still Seen as Threat
Fadil gazed out at the fields surrounding his farm. “It’s a lot different here than in the deserts of
Fadil was one of hundreds of Libyans from the eastern city of
Though Fadil frowns on such extremism today, it wasn’t long ago that the
He was not alone. Records discovered by the
As Fadil spoke outside a downtown mosque, a group of men in their 20s entered the courtyard. After exchanging short pleasantries, Fadil pointed in their direction. “You see him,” he said, motioning to one with a short beard that hugged his face. “He went to
The Iraqi veterans are still here, but their views have changed. Today they no longer want to fight American forces but instead want to build their country with American aid and technical expertise. “We did our share of killing,” says Faris, another
Around Derna the former jihadists are admired by youths just coming into their own, who respect both their willingness to take on a superpower and the contributions they made to the Libyan revolution. “I want to be a thuwwar, just like you,” a boy not much older than 10 says, using the Arabic term for rebel fighter as Fadil’s gang passes him.
“This is our home and we need to make it a better place for them,” Fadil says later that night in a pickup truck during his patrol round.
When the revolution broke out in February 2011, Fadil threw stones at government buildings. Later he helped raid weapons storehouses and drove west with thousands of others to fight Gaddafi’s forces. Today he has returned to Derna as a member of the local security service. “We can’t move from battle to battle and fight forever,” he says.
But a small group of Derna jihadis is doing just that. They have coalesced around Sufyan Ben Qumu, a former
“He has links to extremists,” says a Libyan intelligence official. “There have been signs they were plotting something, but we were not able to figure out what they were up to exactly.”
American intelligence officials believe jihadists have been running a camp outside Derna where they have been training a new generation of fighters in combat skills and indoctrinating them with extremist ideas. But when a Libyan working for an international media organization visited a camp outside the city several months ago, all he found was some teenagers playing in the sand. “They didn’t look like the bad jihadists we were told about,” he said.