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.”
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.”