Libya: ex Guantanamo inmate, Belhaj, enters political fray

Military head of Tripoli lays down arms to form party

15 May, 20:03

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli Military Council Abdel Hakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli Military Council

(ANSAmed) - ROME - The die is cast: ''The time has come to rebuild Libya,'' and the Head of the Military Council of Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a strongman of the revolution, has decided to enter the political arena, resigning from his post to dedicate himself full time to this new goal. The former leader of the Combatant Group of Islamic Libyans (LIFG), an anti-Gaddafi formation that arose in the mid 1990s with several insurrections on the Eastern seaboard, and (according to some observers) responsible for three attempts on the dictator's life, is to form his own party. It is not clear what the next move will be: analysts speculate that the new political formation will not manage to make its appearance in time for the elections to the Constituent Assembly, scheduled for June 19, but will aim instead for the political elections that are due to take place once the new constitution has been approved. Meanwhile Mr Belhaj has made his resignation official and the National Transitional Libyan Council (NTC) will have to appoint a new head of the Military Council in Tripoli, which runs an armed force of more than 25,000 service personnel. Born in the Libyan capital in 1966 and with a degree in Engineering, Belhaj moved on to fighting at the side of the Afghan Mujahidin at the time of the Soviet invasion. On his return to his country, he set up an anti-Gaddafi Islamic group and then returned once again to Afghanistan, this time fighting under the Taleban. In 2002 the Gaddafi regime issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of having ''close ties'' with Al Qaeda and with Mullah Omar. Two years later he was captured in Thailand with the collaboration of the CIA and MI6 and sent back to the Gaddafi regime, following a period spent in Guantanamo, as one of the many subjects of 'rendition' much used by US intelligence. Belhaj left prison in 2010 on an amnesty by Saif al-Islam. A few months later, leading one of the hard-line factions in the revolt and with help from the Tuwar (revolutionaries)of Jebel Nafusa, he helped bring Gaddafi's reign of power to an end, forcing him and his family to withdraw hurriedly from the capital, leaving it in rebel hands. But what concerns the NTC is not so much the man's past as the suspicion that Belhaj is being directly backed by Qatar, with generous contributions both of money and military hardware.

Mr Belhaj defines himself as a ''normal citizen who fights for a shared cause,'' but he is undoubtedly one of the most popular leaders in a country where a constitution appears to be on its way in which 'Sharia law' will provide the principal source of legislation, as many members of the NTC expected. And he could indeed become the ''strong man'' that the polls say the Libyans are waiting for to take over in the post-Gaddafi order.