* Tripoli's neighbours worried over Libya turmoil
* France's Mali push made southern Libya an Islamist hub
By Patrick Markey
TUNIS, Oct 6 The U.S. raid to snatch a top al
Qaeda suspect off a Tripoli street confirmed what many Libyans
already feared: Post-revolution chaos has made their vast North
African country a haven for Islamist militants with
Two years after a war backed by the West ousted Muammar
Gaddafi, Libya is still fragile, its government weak and its
army unable to control vast tracts of territory, where rival
militias battle over a share of the country's spoils.
On Saturday, Nazih al-Ragye, better known by the cover name
Abu Anas al-Liby, wanted in the bombings of U.S. embassies in
Africa 15 years ago, was grabbed by ten men as he made his way
from prayers in the south of Tripoli.
Four cars swooped on Liby as he returned home and men with
Libyan accents grabbed him, according to his family, and bundled
him into a van which sped off. U.S. officials say he is now
being held outside the country.
Some security experts said the seizure of such a
high-ranking militant suspect in the Libyan capital highlighted
how successive al Qaeda-linked groups are establishing bases far
from its Pakistan-Afghanistan centre.
While Liby was a former exile reported to have returned home
last year, increasingly, analysts say, Libya has attracted
foreign militants with its weak central authority, uncontrolled
land and porous borders to sub Saharan Africa that allow easy
flow of arms and men to the region's hotspots.
"Libya has been seen as a haven for all kinds of radical
groups in the absence of a central government that can really
control the territory," Prof. Dirk Vandewalle, a Libya expert
and author at Dartmouth College who just returned from Tripoli.
"Certainly, the United States sees Libya as a crucial
territory to control whatever terrorism is taking place not just
in Libya but also in the Sahel and even into sub Saharan
Since Gaddafi's fall, Islamists, including elements of al
Qaeda, have used Libya to smuggle out weapons and a base for
fighters. North Africa is home to Al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb and other Islamist affiliates who either cooperate with
the network or sympathise with its ideology.
That influence was clear when Islamist militants were blamed
for the attack a year ago on the U.S. consulate in the eastern
Libyan city of Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador was
Over the past two years, weapons have made it into Egypt,
Mali and Syria from Gaddafi's former stockpiles, and into the
hands of rival militias and former Libyan rebels who refuse to
disarm, saying they want to see more of Libya's wealth.
Its turmoil makes Libya's central authority precarious even
two years after the revolt, as Prime Minister Ali Zeidan fends
off pressure from rival tribes and protesters seeking more
regional autonomy in the east and south of the country.
Symbolic of the disarray, for the last two months, armed
protesters have taken over key ports to demand more autonomy for
their eastern region, cutting the OPEC country's production by
half from the usual 1.4 million barrels per day.
Last week armed mobs also tried to storm the Russian embassy
after reports a Ukrainian woman murdered a Libyan officer,
forcing diplomats to evacuate after Tripoli said it could not
guarantee their safety.
ISLAMISTS ACROSS THE MAGHREB
Libya's turmoil worries its neighbours across North Africa,
feeding concerns Libyan territory may give fertile ground for Al
Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamist militants who
are increasingly cooperating, according to security analysts.
Security officials say lawless southern Libya has become
more of a haven for al Qaeda-linked fighters after French-led
forces drove them from strongholds in northern Mali this year,
killing hundreds in its military campaign there.
Algerian security officials blamed militants who launched
operations from Libya for the January attack on the Amenas gas
plant near the Libyan border, killing more than 30 foreign
workers and making foreign oil companies start to reassess
operations in North Africa.
"The capture of a major al Qaeda figure will not have a big
impact on the overall situation as long as the state is still
not visible," one Algerian security source told Reuters. "Armed
groups are filling the vacuum."
The man blamed for the Amenas attack, Mokhtar Belmokhtar,
threatened to hit French interests this year, announcing his
fighters would join forces with MUJWA, an Islamist group that
was scattered by the French offensive on Mali.
In neighbouring Tunisia, the Islamist-led government has
also designated a local hardline group officials linked to al
Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, as a terrorist organisation after
blaming it for the assassination of two opposition leaders.
What Liby's alleged role was is still not clear. His son,
Abdullah al Ragye, denied his father had taken part in the
bombings of the U.S. embassies.
Liby was described in an 2012 U.S. Congressional report as
"a builder of al Qaeda's network in Libya", according to the
Long War Journal, which documents what is known in the U.S. as
the War on Terror.
Libya's porous security would have given an al Qaeda suspect
broad communication with other Islamists and al Qaeda
affiliates, journal Senior Editor Thomas Joscelyn said.
"It is not just one or two," he said. "there are whole a
host of known al Qaeda personalities he could have been working
with and known al Qaeda linked groups he could be working with."
Libya's government, wary of an Islamist backlash, described
the capture of a Libyan citizen on its soil as a "kidnapping"
and asked Washington for an explanation. Some Libyans were
already bracing for an Islamist reaction.
"There will be a reaction to take revenge because he is an
important al Qaeda figure," said Abdul Bassit Haroun, a former
Libyan militant. "To show them that the arrest of any person
will cost a lot."