WOW, WHAT A SHARP BUNCH…..

IT’S FINALLY DAWNED ON THEM THAT GHADDAFI HAS ISLAMIST TIES! YOU DIDN’T NEED AN OFFICIAL REPORT, MOST PEOPLE BEYOND GRADE 6 COULD HAVE CLUED YOU IN…

Libyan rebels’ Islamist ties cause concern: report

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi gestures to his supporters before making a speech in which he sought to defuse tensions after more than 10 days of anti-government protests, in Tripoli March 2, 2011. Gaddafi, orchestrating a populist response to rebels threatening his rule, blamed al Qaeda on Wednesday for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil

Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi gestures to his supporters before making a speech in which he sought to defuse tensions after more than 10 days of anti-government protests, in Tripoli March 2, 2011. Gaddafi, orchestrating a populist response to rebels threatening his rule, blamed al Qaeda on Wednesday for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil

Stewart Bell, National Post · Mar. 29, 2011 | Last Updated: Mar. 30, 2011 9:24 AM ET

A Canadian intelligence report written in late 2009 called the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of eastern Libya an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the region, now being defended by a Canadian-led NATO coalition.

The report by the government’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre said “several Islamist insurgent groups” were based in eastern Libya and mosques in Benghazi were urging followers to fight in Iraq.

“Within the region, the population holds more conservative views compared to the rest of Libya and Islamist activism is strongly concentrated,” said the report labelled ‘‘secret’’ and released to the National Post under the Access to Information Act.

Concerns about the composition of the rebels began to surface Tuesday as the U.S., Britain, and Qatar said they would consider arming the rebels and NATO was to take charge of the coalition air campaign over Libya.

U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, said there were “flickers” of al-Qaeda in the Libyan opposition. But he added there was no sign they were a significant component of the group that would replace Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

He called the opposition “responsible men and women who are struggling against Col. Gaddafi.” CNN quoted an unnamed counterterrorism official who said there was probably “a sprinkling of extremists to perhaps include al-Qaeda” in the rebels, “but no one should think the opposition is being led by al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates.”

But just over a year ago, the Canadian government, in an intelligence assessment written at the request of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, raised concerns about Islamists in eastern Libya.

“There are a number of small, independent extremist cells operating in the eastern regions of Libya that have no affiliation to other established terrorist groups,” said the report, Terrorist Threat to Canadian Interests in Libya.

It downplayed direct links to al-Qaeda but said the terror group was an influence. “Many Libyan extremists who have been detained claimed to be influenced by al-Qaeda, but do not appear to have direct links to al-Qaeda core in Pakistan.”

Libyan opposition leaders met in London in Tuesday with Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, and David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who signaled they would allow Col. Gaddafi to seek exile, rather than face a war crimes tribunal.

“We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces,” Adm. Stavridis testified at a Senate hearing. “We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al-Qaeda, Hezbollah.”

The remarks are likely to be seized on by Col. Gaddafi who has repeatedly claimed the uprising is driven by terrorists. But the admiral added, “At this point I don’t have detail sufficient to say there is a significant al-Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence.”

The Canadian intelligence report, dated Dec. 8, 2009, said in the early 1990s “several thousand” fighters began regrouping in Libya after returning from the Soviet war in Afghanistan. After attempts on his life in 1996 and 1998, Col. Gaddafi responded with a counter-insurgency campaign that “effectively suppressed the Islamist insurgency.”

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formed in 1991 to overthrow Col. Gaddafi and install shariah law, was crushed, its leaders imprisoned or exiled.

But during the Iraq war, imams at Benghazi’s mosques issued fatwas “instructing followers it was their duty to fight in Iraq. In geographical terms, therefore, the eastern regions represent the epicentre of Islamist extremism in Libya,” the report said.

It blamed unrest in the east partly on high unemployment and called Benghazi “underdeveloped relative to the rest of Libya.”

“The eastern region has traditionally been the site of previous rebellions against the Libyan regime and where several Islamist insurgent groups were based,” wrote ITAC, the Ottawa-based agency made up of representatives of CSIS, RCMP, Canadian Forces and other departments.

Canada’s relationship with Libya had “strengthened considerably” since Col. Gaddafi renounced terrorism and stopped producing weapons of mass destruction in 2003, it said. A dozen Canadian firms were operating in Libya as of November, 2009.

National Post, with files from The Daily Telegraph

sbell@nationalpost.com

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