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Controversial former militia leader puts himself forward as Libya’s savior

October 1st, 2014
07:58 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

A Libyan former militia leader who fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and claims to have been abducted and “rendered” by the CIA is putting himself forward as the savior for Libya’s astounding chaos.

“We have to unite our efforts, all Libyans, all patriotic Libyans, regardless of their affiliations, regardless of their ideologies,” Abdelhakim Belhadj told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

If you thought the meteoric rise of ISIS was complicated, don’t even think about trying to understand Libya.

Militias have run the country since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi over three years ago. Last month, Islamists seized control of the capital, Tripoli, and forced the internationally recognized parliament to flee to Tobruk, a thousand miles away.

U.N.-brokered talks between the two sides got underway on Monday, but with so many different players – not to mention the huge caches of weapons left over from the revolution – it is difficult to see a path out of the chaos.

Balhadj has inserted himself into that space, shedding his battle fatigues and putting on the suit – and talking points – to appeal to the international audience that wants to see stability in Libya.

“We have to unite around one goal, which is a democratic state, and to build relationships with other countries based on mutual trust and mutual respect,” he said. The growth of terrorism now is something that we oppose strongly and we will make every effort to deal with it in a way that is in line with the vision of the majority of Libyans.”

He has little electoral success – he leads the conservative al-Watan party – but outside observers say his vast influence mean peace may be impossible without his help.

Belhadj told Amanpour that he “most certainly” supports the negotiations between the Islamist-backed government in Tripoli – which he backs – and the parliament-in-exile, in Tobruk.

“I support the existence of one strong central government that runs Libya.”

“What we have witnessed is a parliament that came to existence in an unconstitutional fashion and that issued some constitutional declarations outside the control of the central government in a city that's fifteen hundred kilometers away from the capital.”

Many analysts say that though Belhadj has officially left the militias, he in fact controls the militias that took over Tripoli and its airport in August – militias based largely out of Misrata and united under the name Libya Dawn.

But Belhadj contended that the militias forcibly took control of the capital “not to seize power, but to restore order” from the wayward, as he would call it, internationally recognized parliament.

“The revolutionaries who move now in more than ninety percent of the Libyan land are not Islamists. They do not possess an Islamic ideology and they cannot be described as such.”

“Regarding the events that we see in many countries such as Syria and Iraq and those violations that we have been seeing, and those acts that are committed in the name of religion, I'd like to assure you that we stand against terrorism and we will be always against the terrorism.”

Controversial past

Belhadj may or may not be key to peace in Libya. But many raise questions about his controversial past.

He claims that he was “abducted by the CIA” with his then-pregnant wife a decade ago, in Thailand, then transited through the UK-controlled island Diego Garcia and handed over to the Gadhafi regime.

(The CIA declined to comment on Belhadj’s allegations.)

“The side that turned me in, the CIA, knew very well that that regime did not respect human rights. I was physically and psychologically tortured with my wife.”

“But now we are looking into the future now, the future for Libya; as I am speaking to you now, I believe that the past is for dead.”

“Regarding what happened to me, that should be dealt with in court.”

Belhadj has sued two former members of the British government over the country’s alleged involvement in his abduction. That case is pending in a British court.

He is also a self-described former jihadi who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden – who, he is quick to point out, was backed by the United States at the time.

“I never had any ties to Al Qaeda as an organization or even as an ideology,” he told Amanpour.

“We had different opinions from Al Qaeda. This is documented and this is well known.”

“Even those who arrested me in Thailand did not send me to the United States, because I was not wanted by the American legal system. They turned me into the former Gadhafi regime.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Libya
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Libyan

    Belhaj is one of the men responsible for the most recent Operation Dawn, which has caused much chaos, burning of Tripoli airport, killing of almost 1000 people, destruction of Wershafana area, shutting down of the government, kidnapping of civil activits such as Moez Banon and many others.

    Its shameful that Abdulhakim Belhaj is talking about human rights and democracy. This man is trying hard to present himself as a hero and "saviour.
    He should be prosecuted by the ICC not interviewed by CNN.

    October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am | Reply
  2. richard shepherd

    cnn /amonpoorfrom iran fareed/ from egypt/ members of the dumb down america and the world these people all work for the iluminati/devil that includes your oduma/ oreo president who conspired with france/england to kill quadaffi how would odumba and hillary feel if nato dropped bombs and killed their kids under a lie lybian leader in a civil war caused by cia

    October 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • YouAssumeMuchandContributeLittle

      LOL> And this ladies and germs is the mindset of an the averagew uneducated islamic person.

      November 5, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  3. Giumaa ahmed

    Belhadj is responsible for all the atrocity in tripoli over last three months. Him and swehli and by using badi as there militia commande destroyed, killed and stop against the wishes of people. He is very heavily backed by Qatar and turkey with weapons and money. I think he is a terrorist and it run in his blood for long time and should be brought to justice

    October 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  4. Alla Kalush

    If he is backed by Qatar and Turkey than he's a good man.

    October 1, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Reply
    • mohamed ben othman

      he is a bad man ,

      October 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Reply
    • أبوذر الليبي The Libyan Abuthar

      What drives me crazy is the still American stupidity of repeating the same old game. The whole world now is aware that US administration has supported Taliban and Islamic Extremists including Osama Ben Laden during the cold war with SU, they repeated it with SISI, and recently doing it with Libya; it is by supporting Islamic militias to get the power in Libya. We all know in Libya that Deborah Jones, the American ambassador in Tripoli, is in close touch with these militias. This sneaky man is the biggest thief in Tripoli looking forward to skip his past as a terrorist, he got big zero in every single election of any kind in the country since falling of Quadafi's regime. he got the money, the arms, and connections outside, but he lost the hearts of Libyans except who he can buy. Last, this man should be in the court for his being terrorist not being interviewed by USA. By the way, even this interview, i guess it has been suggested by CIA.

      October 1, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • fred

      He is not a good man.
      He is a greedy power hungry man, full stop!

      October 2, 2014 at 3:42 am | Reply
  5. mahamed inrahim

    you lost your sens of credibility ms Amanpour by promoting such a terrorist who was responsible fot the latest atrocity in tripoli. it is really shamefull when people talk about democracy and the same time they support terrorists

    October 2, 2014 at 3:38 am | Reply
  6. fred

    Amanpour please wake up and smell the coffee.
    The Islamists he pretends to distance himself from have lost at the elections.
    Belhaj only represents himself and the militias he controls.
    He is the problem, not the solution.
    You have been talking to the wrong people!

    October 2, 2014 at 3:45 am | Reply
  7. eyimola

    The removal of Colonel Ghaddafi from power and his brutal execution is the fault of those who encouraged, armed and backed the so called Arab spring. The consequences of this act are only beginning to surface, and will not only impact Libyas neighbours

    October 2, 2014 at 6:27 am | Reply
  8. The steadfast

    the USA created Belhadj and Guantanamo was not a persion, Guantanamo was rehabilitation center for thoes Killers who are now controling thoes " Arab Spring " countries

    October 2, 2014 at 11:51 am | Reply
  9. mylosmiles

    Belhaj is a known criminal, he backs radical Islamists and is responsible for incredible, insurmountable damage to Libya and its people. He was and always will be a radical criminal. To say that he could lead the people of Libya is like saying Bin Laden could lead the people of America. Belhaj is as hated as any person could ever be in Libya, he could not beelected dog catcher. He joined hands with the US and NATO to destroy (illegally) his own country and see hundreds of thousands of Libyans slaughtered. He is a narcissistic psychopathic criminal. The GNC puppet government in Tripoli was disbanded in February of this year and the people of Libya voted all the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda representatives out of office. These radicals refuse to leave and hold power by way of Belhaj's thugs. The recognized legitimate government of Libya are forced to meet in Tobruk because Belhaj and his mafia Misurata criminals have threatened to kill them all. There is no place in Libya for Belhaj, he should take his gang of thugs and mafia and disappear off the planet.

    October 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  10. hishman

    USA administration is keen to prove that has been out of touch when it comes to arab world since 1957. your falls and mistaked have destroyed our countries, and now your trying to resell Belhaj who failed to win more than 25 votes in july 2012. the last military operation was funded and then operated by militias from five twons as a respnse of their fail in the last general election, and to protect their financial gains. We have to take it for grant that the Al qa' ida ideology and elements is present and active among Souk Aljumaa, Gharian, Zawia, and Misurata. we can mention Adel alghariani, Shaban Hadia,

    October 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  11. Libya Altoboli

    He is one of the terrorist leaders, he has a military group that can kill libyans with cold blood, he became multi-millionaire after the revolution

    October 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  12. Anne Reevell

    Astonished by this total absence of inquisitive journalism and ignorance of Libyan situation . Ask Libyans what they want . Get on the ground . Listen to what people want? CNN you should be ashamed.

    October 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  13. Name*بن علي

    Made by USA,
    Made by CIA.
    Supported by US Embassy

    October 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Reply
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    October 11, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  15. fred

    Amanpour, could you please justify your talking to this man?

    November 2, 2014 at 3:29 am | Reply
  16. YouAssumeMuchandContributeLittle

    SO the arabs still blame the cia and usa and everyone else except those that are actually responsible for this mess. themselves...

    November 5, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Reply
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