Special to WorldTribune.com
By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, Global Information System / Defense & Foreign Affairs
The consolidation of a self-proclaimed Caliphate in eastern Libya provides the jihadist camp with springboard into Africa and southern Europe.
That strategic thrust, supported strongly by Qatar, Sudan, Iran, and Turkey, has already begun, and highlights the transformation of the takfiri jihadist movements, the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), and many of the former Al Qaida movements.
Although jihadist forces occupied Tripoli in October 2011 — as a direct result of the Western military intervention which helped bring down the Moammar al-Gadhafi Administration in Libya — they failed to consolidate power and focus on all-Islamist causes. Subsequently, Libya sank into the still-escalating fratricidal fighting between a myriad of militias and localized forces.
Starting early 2014, the jihad-sponsoring states have capitalized on the building chaos in order to transform jihadist-held parts of Libya into secure springboards for the spread of takfiri jihadism into both western Africa and southern Europe.
By early 2015, Libya no longer existed as a viable state, having morphed, at least for the time being, into a web of small fiefdoms fighting each other.
Libyan jihadists affiliated with global entities, foreign jihadists, and jihad-sponsoring states played a decisive role in the victory of the Libyan uprising and the toppling of the Gadhafi Government in 2011.
While NATO airpower was instrumental in destroying Gadhafi’s military machine, the jihadist camp was decisive in seizing power on the ground to the detriment of Libya’s myriad of indigenous tribes and clans. These contradictions are at the crux of the fratricidal fighting throughout the area of what once was Libya, and adjacent regions.
As background Iran, Sudan, and their proxies — mainly the Hamas and the Hizbullah — were the first jihadist entities on the ground in eastern Libya in 2011, both helping the anti-Gadhafi upsurge and finding out how they could benefit from the prevailing chaos.
A few Iranian and Sudanese officers had already arrived in Benghazi from Sudan in the third week of February 2011, and met with Libyan senior officers who had defected to the rebels.
In March 2011, the IRGC established a high-level command center in Benghazi. IRGC Brig.-Gen. Mehdi Rabbani — a close confidant of Quds Forces commander Qassem Soleimani and the deputy commander of the IRGC Tharallah Base in Tehran — was nominated the commander of the Libyan operation. (In December 2012, Rabbani was promoted IRGC Deputy Chief of Operations and put in charge of such key issues as the defense of the Persian Gulf.)
The on-site senior Iranian operative was Ibrahim Muhammad Judaki of the Quds Forces contingent in Lebanon. His deputy was Khalil Harb, then the Special Advisor to the Hizbullah’s Secretary General in charge of cooperation with and support for Palestinian, Yemeni, and other sensitive groups. Another senior member of the Iranian group was Abdul Latif al-Ashkar, one of the main logistics experts of the Hamas who was target killed by Israel near Port Sudan, Sudan, on the night of April 6/7, 2011.
The initial mission was to expedite the purchase of weapons and ammunition for all anti-Western jihadist forces. The Iranians brought with them several millions in hard currency (dollars and euros). Special attention was paid to the purchase of chemical warfare (CW) munitions for Hamas and Hizbullah.
Tehran’s objective was to provide their protégés with CW capabilities from third-party sources so that Iran would not be implicated and subjected to retaliation should Hamas or Hizbullah use these weapons against Israel. In late March 2011, the first two small convoys set on their way to Sudan via Kufra. One convoy carried tactical containers and the other a few shells. This endeavor led Israel to target and kill Abdul Latif al-Ashkar as he was preparing to ship the weapons from Sudan to the Gaza Strip via the Sinai Peninsula.
The Sunni jihadists — both Libyans and foreigners — who arrived to help their LIGF (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya: LIFG) brethren in Cyrenaica quickly consolidate a jihadist bastion under the Emirate’s banner. One of the key principles of the 2004/5 jihadist doctrine for localized jihads articulated by Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Shura Kabira is to seize foothold for jihad, and a possible base for the jihadist trend, anywhere possible and even if in cooperation or partnership with non-Islamist elements. With Cyrenaica becoming an important bastion of jihadism, as well as a gateway to Egypt, Sudan, the Sahel, and southern Europe, it was imperative to further consolidate the jihadist safe-haven the moment conducive conditions arose. The jihadists quickly ensured that no future government of Libya would be able to undermine the LIFG-dominated emirate between Darna and Baida unless they unleashed a most violent civil war.
Indeed, the jihadists immediately started to dispatch convoys of trucks full of weapons and ammunition from eastern Libya via Chad to AQIM (Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) bases in the Sahel (mainly Niger and Mali).
Meanwhile, in the Autumn of 2011, the Libyan chaos served as a cover for the consolidation of numerous jihadist entities focusing on other jihadist fronts. However, it took the intervention of various jihad-sponsoring states — mainly Qatar, Turkey, and Iran — to transform the jihadist victory in Libya into an effective springboard for the export of jihadism throughout vast regions.
The number one lesson which Doha drew from the Libya crisis — Qatar’s first real surge onto the big-power politics — was that money was not enough, and that there was no substitute to actual intervention on the ground in the subversive and military operations.
Hence, Doha embarked on the building of a “jihadist Foreign Legion” which would provide Qatar with the ability to intervene in Sunni contingencies, starting with the then-fledgling Syrian jihad.
The then-Qatari Chief of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, personally oversaw the military aspects of the program. The Commander in Chief was the Libyan jihadist commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj. This nomination kept him away from the turmoil in Libya and the NTC’s inability to install him as either Minister of Defense or Army Chief. Belhaj’s deputies were Al-Mahdi Hatari (the former commander of the Tripoli Brigade) and Kikli Adem (Belhaj’s loyal right-hand man from his LIFG days). The main training facilities for the Legion were in Darna, the center of the Libyan jihadist emirate.
Between early 2011 and early 2014, the Islamist jihadist world was consumed by a great theological debate about their future in view of the grassroots intifadas which shook the Middle East. Osama bin Laden’s Shura Kabira never really believed in the realistic prospects of enduring jihadist states as viable sources for the spread of jihad, and rejected the concept as a viable goal after the collapse of the Taliban’s Emirate in Afghanistan.
Although bin Laden led the campaign to help the intifadas, he did not believe the nascent Islamist states like then-President Mohammed Morsi’s Egypt would endure against a hostile world.
In contrast, a group of neo-salafi scholars considered the intifadas as the beginning of the fateful “End-of-Time Battle” for the Middle East. According to tradition, this apocalyptic battle would be waged in ash-Sham on the plain of Dabiq. The scholars defined the theological prerequisites for expediting this battle in what they called “the Khorasan Pledge”, starting with the imperative of a jihadist caliphate.
The first such Caliphate is being implemented in al-Jazira under the new “Emir of the Faithful”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi. Another key issue dividing the jihadist world was cooperation with Shi’ite Iran, which Zawahiri encouraged given the immense benefits derived by the jihadists, and Baghdadi initially forbade on account of Sunni orthodoxy but later slightly relaxed for pragmatic reasons.
This profound theological debate (within Sunni Islamism) slowed down the consolidation of the jihadist springboards in Libya and other jihad fronts all over the world.
The consolidation of a jihadist Caliphate in eastern Libya accelerated starting early 2014 because of the need to support the Egyptian Islamist jihadists against the growing power and popularity of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
In March, a wide coalition of jihadists — including the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, Hamas, and Al Qaida — started building a Free Egyptian Army in eastern Libya under Qatari, Turkish, and Iranian patronage.
The “emir” of the Free Egyptian Army (FEA) is Sharif al-Radwani. The Army’s liaison officer with the Qataris is Abu-Ubaida, a veteran Al Qaida commander who had worked with the Qataris in Libya, Syria, and other sensitive projects.
The initial objectives of the FEA are to target vital installations, to storm prisons to free Muslim Brothers detainees, and to make Sisi’s Egypt ungovernable. The Libyan intelligence services supported these preparations. Large quantities of weapons, vehicles and other equipment were delivered to the Egyptian groups and stored in the Darna Emirate, pending dispatch into Egypt.
Meanwhile, as of Spring 2014, the theological character of the jihadist movement in Libya had been tied intimately to the transformation of the jihadist movement in the Maghreb and the Sahel. No jihadist movement could escape the brewing schism between the traditional jihadism represented by the Al Qaida supreme leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the ascent of takfiri jihadism spearheaded by the Khorasan Pledge scholars and implemented by the KHI (Al-khilafa al-Islamiya or the Islamic Caliphate) in al-Jazira.
In June 2014, AQIM leaders sought to reconcile between the Al Qaida Shura Kabira and the Khorasan Pledge scholars. In a June 22, 2014, communiqué, AQIM recognized Ayman al-Zawahiri’s preeminence as “our Sheikh and Emir”, and urged DI’ISH to reconcile. However, when AQIM’s appeals were rejected by the Al Qaida Shura Kabira, AQIM announced its support for the DI’ISH.
On July 1, 2014, Sheikh Abdullah Othman al-Assimi posted a video-message in the name of al-Qaidat Jihad in the Maghreb and Trans-Saharan Regions. Assimi, whose real name is unknown, is the organization’s leader and a prominent Islamist jurist. His home base is in the mountains and forests of Boumerdes and Tizi-Ouzou in Algeria.
“My group wants to build friendly ties with DI’ISH. You are dearer to us than our tribe and family, and you will always have our support,” Assimi said. “We are still waiting for Al Qaida branches across the world to reveal their stance and declare their support for [DI’ISH].” Assimi alluded to his support for the takfiri interpretations of the laws of jihad. “After the silence of the people concerned, we wanted to show our stance for the sake of justice so that the DI’ISH jihadists know that we will not fail them. We tell all Muslims that we have seen justice in the DI’ISH approach and they are among the most obedient of Allah’s people and the most dedicated to the Prophet.”
This was a very important endorsement of the tenets articulated in the Khorasan Pledge.
Meanwhile, a group of Libyan mujahedin, including veterans of the Syrian jihad, announced in mid-June 2014 the formation of a takfiri jihadist group in eastern Libya called the al-Battar Brigade. The Brigade was modeled after the DI’ISH and was formally affiliated with it through Libyan mujahedin in both Libya and al-Jazira. The primary objective of the Al-Battar Brigade was to establish control over the city of Darna — the heart of Libyan Islamism and jihadism — and eradicate traitors to the jihadist takfiri cause.
“We will cut off heads, slit stomachs and fill Libya with graves” in order to attain these objectives, the Al-Battar communique said. At the same time, al-Battar Brigade continued to cooperate with Al Qaida’s Ansar Al-Sharia, the jihadist primary entity expediting the movement of jihadists and weapons between the Syria-Iraq theater and local centers such as Libya.
In late-July, regional jihadist leaders met in southern Libya in order to better coordinate operations, examine the possible unification of Maghreb and Sahel groups, and agree on a common position regarding the theological dispute between Zawahiri and Baghdadi. The gathering included senior commanders from AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia and Libya), Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Egypt), El Mourabitounes and Ansar al-Din (northern Mali). By mid-August 2014, the presence of takfri jihadists affiliated with the KHI throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel was palpable. The takfiri jihadists vastly expanded recruitment of volunteers for fighting in the ranks of the KHI in Syria-Iraq. They also oversaw the conversion of existing networks and groups to takfiri jihadism.
The process has accelerated by the return of combat veteran jihadists to the Maghreb and the Sahel.
Some of these veterans assumed command of takfiri jihadist entities and raised the banner of the Caliphate. Led by Algerian commander Luqman Abu Sakhr, the Tunisia-based Uqba Ibn Nafi Brigade formally joined the KHI. The Brigade also claimed responsibility for the July 2014 killing of 15 Tunisian Army soldiers on the border with Algeria. In mid-September 2014, senior commander Khaled Abu Suleiman (real name Gouri Abdelmalek) noted that since “the Maghreb has deviated from the true path [of jihad]” he was pulling his men from affiliation with AQIM. He announced the establishment of the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria (Jound al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jazayer) and swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate. The Caliphate Soldiers kidnapped and beheaded a French national to demonstrate their adherence to the takfiri doctrine of Baghdadi’s Caliphate. Moreover, both Abu Ayaz, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia of Tunisia, and Muhammad al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia of Libya, gravitated toward takfiri jihadism as a result of deep theological discussions with Luqman Abu Sakhr.
Consequently, the main regional commanders joined the preparations for the establishment of an Islamic State in the Islamic Maghreb (ISIM). Mokhtar Belmokhtar, currently the leader of the al-Murabitun in southern Libya, is the leading candidate for the post of Emir of the ISIM. In the Autumn of 2014, he oversaw the organizing of the so-called “Salvador Triangle” in the no-man’s land formed by the borders of Libya, Algeria and Niger. Cadres of al-Murabitun, al-Battar and foreign expert jihadist established three secret training camps in southern Libya. These camps serve as the center of takfiri jihadism throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel, providing expert training, organizing and equipping for several hundred jihadists at any given time.
However, the most important development affecting the jihadist trend in Libya, and the entire western Africa region, was taking place in Khartoum.
Starting in late Spring 2014, Khartoum and Tehran began to restore their surge into western Africa. It was not a simple decision for Khartoum because Sudan was by then deeply involved in sponsoring and assisting a myriad of Sunni jihadist movements throughout the Middle East. Some of these groups were vehemently anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iran takfiri jihadist groups. Moreover, Sudanese intelligence was closely cooperating with Turkish intelligence and the key conservative Sunni Gulf States led by Qatar.
In Summer 2014, Sudan President Umar al-Bashir instructed the entire national security and intelligence élite of Sudan to re-examine the country’s overall defense posture in view of the prevailing and emerging threats and opportunities.
On July 1, 2014, Bashir chaired a milestone meeting in Khartoum with the country’s most senior military and security officials in which the overall strategic posture of Sudan was assessed.
Special attention was paid to the strategic relations with Iran and their impact on the situation vis-à-vis Libya. Gen. Siddiq Amer, the Director General of Intelligence and Security, told Bashir that “Iran trained for us a hundred officers in advanced technological fields and areas like decoding, spying, in addition to MI [military intelligence] crafts, and supplied us with all the necessary equipment for [Sudan’s] information war.”
Gen. Yahia Muhammad Kheir, the Minister of State for Defense, summed up Iran’s contribution to Sudan’s strategic capabilities and particularly the transfer of weapon systems from Libya.
“Two-thirds of Gadhafi’s sophisticated armaments are in our hands,” Kheir stated. Gadhafi “didn’t use them because he lacked some technique [ie: technical expertise], but our experts in collaboration with the Iranian experts managed to develop some missiles [and make them operational].” Lt.-Gen. Ismail Breima Abdel-Samad, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, added that the Iran-built Kenana Air Base south of Khartoum was the center of the strategic program.
“Kenana Air Base is place[d] underground and designed with highly advance technologies and proper security measures. This is where we store all the cargos of weapons we receive from our friends.”
Bashir summed up the discussions by asserting Sudan’s policies and future objectives. He stressed the importance of Sudan’s continued involvement in Libya in support for the jihadist forces. He noted: “We really benefit from Gadhafi’s armaments which are in our hands, we can [further] develop them. Our allies from the Islamic movements are strong. We shall contribute in training the Libyan army. I’ve advised them to ensure that all the army and security [forces] are loyal to the Islamists. You must continue the coordination with them. Then the Libyan political decision will end up in our hands and under our control in case the Islamic movements succeeded to crush Haftar. [Tell the Libyan authorities] that we would secure the oil reserves [for them]. It is clear that the Islamists will win due to the serious support from Qatar and Iran, as you know. Today, the Libyans have joint forces with us and we are supporting them with armaments and intelligence. Tchad [Chad] is a strategic ally and we have joint forces with them. Additionally, the Chadian opposition is also under our control and we can benefit from them by keeping them as a reserve force.”
In conclusion, Bashir emphasized that Sudan’s international relations must always be second to “our relations with Iran, and the Muslim Brothers, and the salafi-jihadist movements that are financed by Iran and Qatar”. Sudan “cannot change our relations with Iran and our brothers” on account of “useless relationships” with Arab and Western states. Bashir stressed that these assertions stem from the quintessence of the government in Khartoum. “We are Islamic resistance revolutionaries, and we refuse the domination of America in the Arab world and [the] African continent. Our religion teaches us and encourages us to fight and terrorize the enemy, plus preparing force to confront him. Our martyrs [go] to heaven and their dead [go] to hell. [There is] no way to stop the jihad,” Bashir decreed.
On Aug. 31, 2014, the entire leadership met in Khartoum for a top secret strategy formulation deliberation on the basis of the July 1, 2014, meeting with Bashir. Gen. Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, the Minister of Defense, asserted that the special relations with Iran were to remain the crux of Sudan’s national security:
“I shall start with our relationship with Iran and say it is a strategic and everlasting relationship. We cannot compromise or lose it. All the advancement in our military industry is from Iran. They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came when we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all directions including the National Democratic Alliance. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our MI [Military Intelligence] and security cadres. They also trained us in weapons production and transferred to us modern technology in the military production industry. There is one full battalion of the Republican Guards still with us here and other experts who are constructing interception and spying bases in order to protect us, plus an advanced Air Defense system. They built for us Kenana and Jebel Awliya Air Force bases.”
Gen. Siddiq Amer, the Director-General of Intelligence and Security, concurred and stated that “Iran is our biggest ally in the region, in terms of cooperation in the areas of intelligence and military industrial production. We have relations with all the Islamic Movements World Wide and we represent a door for Iran to all these Islamic groups.” Amer reinforced an earlier comment by Hussein about the extent of Sudan’s reach in the jihadist circles. Hussein noted that “the ISIS and the other jihadist movements are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a database on that as the one we have.”
Gen. Yahya Muhammad Kheir, the Minister of State for Defense, raised the possibility of cooperating with the Gulf States on issues that include Africa.
The intelligence services of several Gulf States were seeking Sudan’s help with intelligence and contacts because the Gulf States did not know anything about the Islamist groups in Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, and the North African Arab Countries. Kheir recommended that Khartoum cooperated with the Gulf States to the extent that Sudanese interests were furthered and that Sudan’s vital interests were not affected. “We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf States,” Kheir stated. Amer also saw no problem balancing between the Gulf States and Iran. “We are capable of misleading the Gulf States by taking open, declared steps and procedures towards improving diplomatic relations with them,” he assured.
The meeting also delved into Sudan’s relations with the jihadist forces in Libya and their impact on Sudan’s growing cooperation with Qatar and Turkey in sponsoring jihadist forces throughout Africa. Hussein explained that practical cooperation had already begun in Libya. He illustrated Sudan’s unique role as a mediator between Iran and the Sunni powers. In late July 2014, Hussein noted, “they [the Iranians] transported to us BM [anti-aircraft] missile launchers and their rockets using civil aviation planes. We stored them in Kenana and sold part of them to Qatar to support Libya fighters after they were subjected to attacks by the Egyptian and Emirates air forces. That helped them to achieve victory.”
Gen. Imad al-Din Adawy, the Chief of Joint Operations, elaborated on the latest developments in the cooperation with and in Libya. “Our joint forces with Tchad [Chad] are in their best state. The Libyan border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our allies (the Libya Dawn Forces) in Tripoli. We managed to deliver to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room with them under one of the colonels in order to coordinate and administer the military operations. Turkey and Qatar provided us with information in favor of the revolutionaries on top of the information collected by our own agents so they can control the whole country.”
Amer pointed out to the prospects for long-term relations with Libya through the professional assistance by Sudanese Intelligence. “We have intensified the work to train and graduate Libyan MI cadres. Currently, they are doing an advanced course on Internet operation, deciphering of codes, interception of telephones and wireless radios. Their leadership requested us to train and establish for them a strong MI system.” It is through the Libyan Military Intelligence that Sudan would not only dominate Islamist-jihadist Tripoli, but also open the back door for Iran.
Meanwhile, Summer 2014 saw the building of relations and cooperation between the intelligence services of Iran, Sudan, Qatar, and Turkey in Libya and the acceptance of the central and unique role of Sudan. Back in early Summer of 2014, Nouri Abusahmain — then still the Islamist president of the Libyan General National Congress (in office between June 25, 2013, and August 4, 2014) — made a secret trip to Khartoum and requested funding and arms shipments in order to sustain the hold onto power by jihadist militias affiliated with the Muslim Brothers.
The Libyans nominated Ahmad al-Zuway, an Ikhwan official with tribal links in Sudan, as the front man for the military-intelligence cooperation with Sudan. Zuway’s first task was to oversee the flow of arms and jihadists in cars and trucks from north-western Sudan to Kufra (in the southeast of Libya’s Cyrenaica region). Consequently, the Ikhwan could expand the jihadist Dawn militias with fighters, weapons and ammunition from Sudan.
During the Summer, Sudan launched supplies by air to the Tripoli-Misrata area. The coastal highway from the Benghazi-area stockpiles in the east and the Tripoli-Misrata area in the west was blocked in several sectors, so onland traffic was impossible. Consequently, Libya’s various jihadist militias became increasingly dependent on supplies flown from Sudan over the Sahara. As the jihadist forces closed on Benghazi, Sudanese transport aircraft directly supplied the forces advancing from Darna in the east and Misrata in the west. In early September 2014, Sudan began to directly supply the jihadist Dawn militias in the Tripoli area.
Transport aircraft flew from Sudan, landed and refueled in Kufra, and continued to the Tripoli airport of Mitiga, which is controlled by the Dawn militias. These supplies enabled the Dawn militias to sustain their hold over the vital Tripoli-Misruta area, forcing the Libyan politicians opposed to the Islamists to escape to Tobruk near the Egyptian border. Meanwhile, to expedite the flow of arms and ammunition, Sudan also began to supply Kufra by air in addition to the ongoing truck convoys.
By Autumn 2014, Doha decided to institutionalize and formalize the cooperation with Khartoum in order to ensure that it was not banished from Libya and other up-and-coming jihadist fronts, mainly in Africa. During October 2014, Doha and Khartoum negotiated several secret and not-secret Sudanese-Qatari agreements. In early November 2014, Qatari Minister of Defense Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah and the Sudanese Minister of Defense Gen. Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussein signed a comprehensive military cooperation agreement in Doha. The signing ceremony was attended by the Chief-of-Staff of the Qatari Armed Forces, Maj.-Gen. Ghanim bin Shaheen al-Ghanim, who handles the day-to-day implementation.
The agreement covers “training, formation, exchange of expertise, joint exercises, joint investments, exchange of visits, promotion of cooperation between the two armies, and the exchange of military studies on the level of military academic institutions”. The agreement also provided for “the exchange of expertise in logistics and industrial fields including detached service of officers and experts along with the military medical cooperation”; that is, Qatari participation in the Sudanese out of country endeavors. As part of the military cooperation agreement, Qatar committed to “supply Sudan with the natural gas”. In the secret agreement on intelligence cooperation, Qatar committed to sponsoring and funding a myriad of Sudanese (and Iranian) jihadist initiatives mostly throughout Africa.
It is understood in Doha that in the context of the new bilateral relations, Khartoum would intercede with Tehran not to undermine the al-Thani rule in Qatar and to continue to use Qatar as the lucrative main venue for illegal technology imports and sanctions-busting oil and gas exports.
In late-November 2014, Maj.-Gen. Ghanim bin Shaheen led a large delegation of military and intelligence officials on a followup visit to Khartoum. He was hosted by Sudan’s Gen. Hussein. The delegations discussed the further expansion and consolidation of the special relations and cooperation between the armed forces of Qatar and Sudan. Concurrently, Sudan’s Information Minister, Dr Ahmed Bilal, arrived in Doha in order to address the public political aspects of the new relations. Bilal delivered a speech praising “the relations between Qatar and Sudan” and describing them as “strong, long-standing and well-developed ties”.
Bilal was effusive in his praise of official Qatar. “The people of Sudan owe a debt of gratitude to the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Father Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Government and people of Qatar for the support extended to Sudan in all conditions and in all fields.”
Back in September 2014, 15 Qatar-sponsored KHI operatives led by an Egyptian and a Saudi Arabian senior commanders arrived in Darna from Syria via Turkey. The delegation included top jurist Turki al-Bin’ali and Abu Nabil al-Anbari, the former “emir” of Iraq’s Anbar province. Their mission was to establish a KHI branch in Libya. By late October 2014, more than 50 Darna jihadists publicly pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared their commitment to establishing a Darna Caliphate in Cyrenaica. Using the weapons and funds received from Sudan, they built an 800-strong force operating at least six camps outside Darna as well as a few large training facilities in the Green Mountains for Libyan, Egyptian and foreign jihadists. By mid-November 2014, they seized control of the entire city of Darna with the KHI’s black banners flying over all government buildings.
On Dec. 12, 2014, the Mujahedin Shura Council of Cyrenaica urged all Islamist forces to join a coalition led by the Darna Caliphate, and all the Islamist militias in eastern Libya, including the Sudan-sponsored Libyan Dawn forces, recognized the new coalition.
The jihadists celebrated the announcement with a military parade in Darna led by tanks and technicals adorned with black flags. Combat proven commanders from Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt arrived in Darna from the KHI to help expand the training and force building efforts. They established three major training camps in Nawfaliyah (near Sirte), Sabratha, and Darna for Libyan and African fighters. Sudanese military technicians also arrived in Darna to build communications facilities as well as maintain the combat aircraft, tanks, artillery and rockets in the jihadists’ arsenal. By month end, these Sudanese technicians were instrumental in servicing and arming the few combat aircraft seized by the Libyan Dawn, and thus enabling the Libyan pilots to bomb and set aflame several oil tanks in the Sidra port.
With the Darna Caliphate secure, Sudan and its allies — Qatar, Turkey, and, behind the scenes, Iran — could capitalize on the huge stockpiles left there by the Gadhafi Government in order to support African jihads. For example, the support for the Boko Haram was put under a single manager: a coordinator for the communications, weapons supplies and financing delivered from Libya via Sudan. Known only by nom de guerre Abu Kudes, he is an Egyptian, an Ikhwan activist and originally a “professor” from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, who was involved in earlier jihadist logistical efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Turkey-Syria.
In late 2014, Abu Kudes was coordinating the delivery of weapons from stockpiles in Cyrenaica with the assistance of logistical experts from Sudanese and Turkish intelligence. Qatari intelligence was funding all the jihadist logistical operations in Cyrenaica.
By early 2015, the uppermost leadership of the Islamic Caliphate started to openly highlight the strategic importance of Libya: that is, the Libyan Wilayat (Province) of the KHI. A clear manifestation of the trend was the publication in early January 2015 of an essay called “Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State” in the KHI’s main electronic venue. The gist of the essay was the imperative for the KHI to expand into, and then surge from, Libya. The author identified himself as a Libyan supporter of the Caliphate.
The essay explains that “by the grace of God to Libya, God bestowed upon this country a strategic position and immense potential. These are things from which it would be possible to derive great benefits if they were efficiently exploited. Unfortunately, some supporters do not recognize the extent of the Libyan arena, the proliferation of variant weaponry within it, its geographic dimensions and its critical environs. Sufficed to say, Libya looks upon the sea, the desert, mountains, and six states: Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia.”
The author emphasizes the unique potential of Libya as a springboard for a jihadist invasion of southern Europe. Libya, he writes, “has a long coastline and looks upon the southern Crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat and note that the number of ‘illegal immigration’ trips from this coast is massive, estimated to be as high as 500 people a day, as a low estimate. According to many [of these immigrants], it is easily possible to pass through Maritime Security Checkpoints and arrive in cities. If this was even partially exploited and developed strategically, pandemonium could be wrought in the southern Europe. It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers.”
The essay concluded by reiterating the geostrategic importance of Libya to the expansion of the Caliphate in and beyond the Greater Middle East. “My brothers, Libya, by the permission of God, is the key to Egypt, the key to Tunisia, Sudan, Mali, Algeria, and Niger too. It is the anchor from which can be reached Africa and the Islamic Maghreb.”
The author urged the takfiri jihadist trend to expedite the liberation of Libya before the West realized the threat Libya constituted itself and before the West would attempt to intervene anew in Libya. “It is imperative that the mujahedin move to try to prevent the continuation of [the Crusader] plan and fix the differences between Libyans so that they may direct their energies towards the real enemy, the real tyrants, those who have as their masters the Crusaders. If that happens, which it will, if God permits it, then no force will stand in the way of the mujahedin.
Not only will pressure on the land of the Caliphate in ash-Sham be relieved, but the territories of the Caliphate in ash-Sham, Iraq, and Hijaz will be linked with those of their brothers in Libya and the Islamic Maghreb and the defeat of all regimes and tyrants in their way will be enabled. That is not difficult for God.”
In February 2015, the Caliphate in eastern Libya was ready to surge into the jihadist center stage.
The KHI uppermost leadership concurred and facilitated the dissemination of the Libyan Caliphate’s message in its primary venue, Al-Hayat Media. On February 15, 2015, the Libyan Caliphate posted a graphic five-minute video titled “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross”. The video began with the marching and beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who had been recently kidnapped in Libya. Dressed in Guantanamo-like orange jump suits, the Copts were lined up along a beach and abruptly beheaded by black-dressed mujahedin. The camera then focused of the sea water red with blood.
A jihadist commander dressed in military fatigues delivered the message in American-accented English. “All praise is due to Allah the strong and mighty,” he declared at the start of the video. “And may blessings and peace be upon the ones sent by the sword as a mercy to all the worlds.” He connected the “End-of-Time Battle” in al-Jazira with the decisive surge on Christendom to be launched from Libya.
“Oh people, recently you have seen us on the hills of ash-Sham and Dabiq’s plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time, and today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.
“All Crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood.”
After the jihadist leader finished his declaration, the line of mujahedin commenced the beheading of the 21 Copts kneeling in front of them. Once the slaughter was over, the commander stepped forward for a final statement.
“And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him,” he declared.