In February of this year, US Senator Rand Paul said that the US-led effort to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 destabilized the region and created what he called a “jihadist wonderland.” Said Rand Paul in comments quoted by The Wall Street Journal, “Gaddafi was a secular dictator… Not the kind of guy that we want to have representing us in country, but he was secular. He didn’t like radical Islam, and he kept them down because they were a threat to him. What happened when we toppled the secular dictator? Chaos. More radical Islam.” Senator Paul called the Libyan intervention “Hillary’s war,” noting the fact that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for the US to get involved in the conflict, and said that it had empowered and armed extremists that would later turn against the United States.
Now, The Washington Times is reporting that former US-backed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader Abdelhakim Belhadj has joined ISIS in an effort to lead a beefing-up of the terror group’s presence in Libya. ISIS has been attempting to spread its influence into Libya, beginning in late 2014 when ISIS occupied the Libyan city of Derna and began training fighters there. The Washington Times notes that ISIS’ strategy for expansion includes the incorporation of existing jihadist groups into a global caliphate, with the integration of Belhadj’s reported Libyan ISIS franchise falling in line with that plan.
Frank Gaffney, Jr. wrote in The Washington Times, “Belhadj’s ties to al Qaeda were controversial during the run up to US airstrikes in support of the Libyan rebels, but this did not prevent him from maintaining a high profile at the time, including being made head of the Tripoli Military Council, a position he held until resigning to run for office in May 2012. Belhadj has a reputation for involvement in the international jihad has well, playing a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, and accused by investigators of being involved in the murder of two Tunisian politicians at behest of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Newsweek notes that thousands of foreign fighters have flooded into Libya over the past few days in an effort to bolster Belhadj’s growing ISIS army. A “Libyan Dawn” coalition, made up of Belhadj’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the al-Qaeda linked terror group Ansar al-Sharia, currently controls Tripoli and claims to be the official government of Libya, though the western-backed government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has obtained UN recognition, setting up an intense conflict as ISIS begins its push for dominance in Libya.