- After Gadhafi's ouster, VICE correspondent spots black flag of al-Qaeda in Benghazi
- Correspondent snaps photos that draw fiery response fom those questioning his findings
- Controversy results in a VICE investigation into extremism in post-Gadhafi LIbya
While reporting in Eastern Libya in November 2011, I came across a black flag fluttering atop Benghazi's courthouse. The flag was imprinted with a yellow moon and the Islamic declaration of belief, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God," a design used by some extremist groups, namely al-Qaeda, to represent Islamic culture in the status of war (i.e. Jihad).
I quickly took some photographs and sent the images to VICE. An article was posted later that day and drew a fiery response from some corners of the media world, questioning my findings and accusing me of doctoring the photos to serve a hidden agenda. To prove what I'd seen, I paired up with Ray Pagnucco, an American cameraman, and together we began our investigation into extremism in post-Gadhafi LIbya.
It would be unfair, however, to claim that the black flag had been the only sign that radical figures were angling for a seat of power in the new Libya. At the capitol, a high-ranking member of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, had been appointed the leader of the Tripoli Military Council. In the early days of the Iraq War, the LIFG had declared their support for al Qaeda and had been reported to share forces with the group for several years. Belhadj, after a stint in the U.S.'s rendition program and Gadhafi's Abu Salim prison, now sits in a miniature throne of power within the National Transitional Council and is running as leader of his own political party in the upcoming elections.
Over in Eastern Libya, where we traveled to meet a group of weapons makers and the Muslim cleric Abdul Hakim al-Hasadi, there are concerns that large numbers of the weapons used in the revolution are now being sold to extremist groups like the Tuareg fighters of Mali and al Qaeda in Somalia. And since Eastern Libya is traditionally known as the more radical region of the country, it's feared that powerful religious leaders like Mr. al-Hasadi are encouraging fundamentalist religious groups to take root in these sparsely regulated lands.
Our dealings with many of these characters didn't conjure up a nest of card-carrying al Qaeda operatives, but they did confirm that Libya has made itself very vulnerable by not filling the power vacuum created by Gadhafi's ouster. If their transitional government doesn't become a functioning government soon, Libya may indeed be waiting for al Qaeda.