Libyan Islamic Fighting Group

FormedJuly 1995
Disbanded2010
First Attack1995: After 1995, the LIFG was known to instigate violent clashes with the Benghazi police and was involved in frequent operations against Libyan security forces (unknown casualties).
Last AttackMay 2003: The LIFG allegedly helped plan a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (45 killed, 100+ wounded).
UpdatedMarch 4, 2017

Narrative Summary

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) was a Sunni opposition group and designated terrorist organization that was established to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi’s government in Libya. The LIFG drew regional support from those who supported the Sanusi monarchy, which ruled Libya between 1951 and 1969. [1] The Sanusi monarchy drew its political legitimacy from Islam and its goals to purify Islam from European influences. [2] The LIFG sought to reinstate purification of Islam in Libya in response to Qaddafi’s apostasy. [3] [4] Analysts believe that the LIFG was led by Abdelhakim Belhadj, also known as Abdullah al-Sadeq. [5] [6] Before the LIFG was formally created in the 1990s, the LIFG was preceded by a secretive jihadist movement led by Emir Awatha Al-Zuwawi in the 1980s. [7][8] This group remained underground to amass weapons to overthrow the Qaddafi Regime, but was discovered by the Regime in 1989. Many members, including Al-Zuwawi were arrested. Some members who were not arrested fled to Afghanistan to join the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. [9] [10] These members gained fighting experience and developed friendly relationships with members of Al Qaeda (AQ) and other fighting groups. Known as the “Libyan Afghans,” these fighters returned to Libya in the early 1990s to establish the LIFG. [11] [12] 


While the group had intended to remain underground to recruit and train new members, they formally announced themselves in 1995 after a mission to rescue one of its members from the hospital went awry and alerted the Qaddafi Regime its presence in eastern Libya and its base in Benghzai. [13] [14]


In the mid to late 1990s, the LIFG was most active in the eastern province of Cyrenaica and was involved in violent clashes with the Benghazi police and attempted to assassinate Qaddafi. [15] [16] [17] In 1995, the LIFG frequently seized weapons from Qaddafi Regime security depots. [18] In June 1996, the LIFG killed eight policeman near Derna. [19] The government responded with air and ground assaults on LIFG bases in June of 1996. [20] The LIFG continued its violence in eastern Libya and sent fighters to at least two military training camps in Sudan in 1996 in which Al-Qaeda (AQ) was also present, thus helping the LIFG make contacts with AQ affiliates. [21] The Qaddafi Regime responded to the LIFG’s continued violence in eastern Libya by imposing martial law, cutting off water and electricity supplies in regions where the LIFG had local support; killing one of the LIFG’s top commanders in October 1997; and arresting over 150 LIFG members in 1998. [22]


As a result of Qaddafi’s crackdown, many LIFG members were forced into exile predominately to the United Kingdom, but also to Afghanistan, Iran, and China. [23] LIFG members who fled to the United Kingdom became politically active and created an underground support network for the LIFG. [24] 


By the end of the 1990s, LIFG activity had slowed drastically and it was no longer acknowledged by analysts as a credible fighting force in Libya. By this time, many LIFG members had relocated to join Al Qaeda. [25] 


In 2001, despite the LIFG’s declining capacity in Libya, the United States Treasury Department listed LIFG as a foreign terrorist organization as part of a global crackdown on terrorists groups linked to Al Qaeda following the September 11th attacks. [26] In 2002, LIFG’s ties to AQ came under increasing scrutiny when a senior LIFG commander and companion of Osama bin Laden, Anas al-Libi, was detained by U.S. forces for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. [27] Despite these links, the LIFG was not known to condone Al Qaeda’s (AQ) strategy of targeting the West. While LIFG fighters reportedly moved to fight in or lead other AQ affiliated groups, the LIFG refused to join Osama bin Laden’s attacks against the West in 1998, did not congratulate AQ for its 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, or the attacks on September 11, 2001, and reportedly warned Osama bin Laden against a large-scale attack against the U.S. in a meeting in Kandahar in 2000 before the September 11 attacks. [28] [29] [30] 


In May 2003, the LIFG allegedly worked with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GCIM) to plan five synchronized suicide bombings that killed 45 people in Casablanca, Morocco. [31] In response, the U.S. Department of State listed the LIFG as a foreign terrorist organization on December 17, 2004. [32] [33] In addition, the British police arrested nine people in the UK involved with the LIFG in February and May of 2006, crippling LIFG’s financial and logistical support in the country. [34]


The LIFG’s relationship with Al Qaeda was in the news again in November 2007 when Abu Yahaya al-Libi, a member of the LIFG, and Ayman al-Zawhiri, now AQ’s leader, announced an alliance between the LIFG and AQ. [35] [36] However, LIFG leadership announced this alliance to be illegitimate and claimed that al-Libi did not have the authority to declare allegiance to AQ. [37] [38] [39] 


In 2006, several documents came to light in Sinjar, Iraq, that claimed that over 100 LIFG members fought with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). [40] [41] However, some analysts argue that there is little definitive evidence that demonstrates that the LIFG directed members to move to Iraq. [42]


In 2007, Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, began meeting with militant group leaders including imprisoned LIFG leaders as a part of an effort to initiate discussions with militant groups. [43] [44] Following a series of talks over two years, the LIFG released a new religious code, known as “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People,” in 2009.  The document denounced killing women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders, and other civilians, promoted the ethical treatment of prisoners of war, and denounced indiscriminate bombings. [45] [46] [47] The code also questioned AQ’s objectives. After the release of this document, two hundred and fifty LIFG members were released from prison, which some speculate was negotiated in return for the LIFG change in ideology. [48]


Shortly thereafter, in 2010, the LIFG officially announced its disbandment. [49] The LIFG was removed from the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations on December 9, 2015. [50]


Some experts have speculated that the LIFG rebranded itself as the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change (LIMC) after a core group of former LIFG members fled to Misrata from Tripoli with Abdelhakim Belhadj on February 15, 2011. Some claim that the LIMC is the resurgence of the LIFG. [51]

Leadership

In the early 1990s, the LIFG created an organizational structure that consisted of four main parts: the political bureau, which supervised the group’s political and military activities; the consultative committee, a smaller committee, which made binding decisions for the group; the judicial committee, which educated LIFG members on religion and propaganda; and the information bureau, which was responsible for communicating with the Libyan public. [52] The consultative committee, also known as the Majlis Shura, was responsible for any decisions to dismantle the group, merge with another group, or change the group’s name. [53] The size of the Shura council is unknown, but it has been speculated as having 12 to 15 members. [54] [55]

  1. Abdelhakim Belhadj (1995 to 2010): Abdelhakim Belhadj, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, was the Emir, the most senior commander, in the LIFG. In 1998, when LIFG members fled to Afghanistan to help the Taliban, Belhadj developed close relationships with Taliban Chief Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda (AQ) leaders. Belhadj was arrested in 2004 in Malaysia and transported to Abu Salim Prison in Libya. After being released from Abu Salim Prison in 2010 and the disbanding of the LIFG, Belhadj served as a brigade leader for the National Transition Council in Tripoli to bring down Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. After Qaddafi’s fall, Belhadj became active in politics, and in 2012, ran as a candidate for The Nation Party.[56]
  2. Sami al Saadi (1995 to 2010): Sami al Saadi was the spiritual leader and most senior Shariah authority. Al Saadi was a member of the secret group under Al-Zuwawi that served as a precursor to the LIFG. He fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and then lived in the UK from 1994 to 1997. He returned to Afghanistan in 1997, met with Osama bin Laden twice in 2000 and 2001, and reportedly argued that the 9/11 attacks were not Shariah. Al Saadi was captured in Hong Kong in 2004, and was then sent to prison in Libya. Al Saadi worked with other LIFG core leaders to write “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People” in 2009. [57]

Ideology & Goals

The LIFG was a Sunni jihadist group that aimed to depose Qadaffi and reestablish an Islamic state in Libya. [58] In its first communiqué in 1995, the LIFG accused Qaddafi’s government of apostasy and stated its goal of establishing Shariah law in Libya. While the LIFG demonstrated solidarity with other jihadist groups around the world, its goals were primarily nationalist rather than transnationalist. [59] The LIFG never publicly supported a global jihad or Al Qaeda’s strategy of targeting the west. [60]  


In 2007, Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, began meeting with imprisoned LIFG leaders to open dialogue with Libyan militant groups. [61] [62]  In 2009, following two years of talks with Qaddafi, the LIFG released a new religious code, known as “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People,” that denounced killing women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders, and other civilians, promoted the ethical treatment of prisoners of war, and denounced indiscriminate bombings. [63] [64] [65] 

Name Changes

The LIFG has not changed its name. 

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

Resources

The LIFG predominately drew local recruits from eastern Libya and often attempted to seize weapons from the regime’s military and security depots. [68] [69]


The LIFG developed logistical support systems in the United Kingdom (UK) in the early 2000s. [70] However, LIFG activity in the UK ceased in May 2006 after the British police arrested nine people involved in logistical LIFG support. [71] 


There were reports of the LIFG pursuing financial support in Iran; however, little information exists on the type of business that was conducted in Iran. [72] The LIFG allegedly received up to $50,000 from Osama bin Laden as compensation for each of its militants killed on the battlefield. [73] 

External Influences

The British government allegedly helped finance the LIFG’s campaign against the Qaddafi Regime. According to David Shayler, an ex-MI5 officer, British Intelligence paid the LIFG $160,000 to assassinate Qaddafi in February 1996. [74]  This assassination attempt failed. 

Geographical Locations

The LIFG was initially active in the Libyan region of Cyrenaica, and expanded its operations throughout eastern Libya. [75] [76] The LIFG attempted to work with the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA)  and helped plan the suicide bombing with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group in Casablanca, Morocco in May 2003.


Some analysts have also speculated that the LIFG worked in Iraq with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). 

Targets & Tactics

The LIFG’s goal was to depose Qaddafi, but the members of the to-be group remained underground until 1995 so it could train new members. LIFG senior members strategized to simultaneously take-over and secure key locations and institutions throughout Libya once the LIFG had enough training and power. [77] [78] [79] After they announced their existence in 1995, the LIFG became engaged in small clashes with the police in Benghazi and operations against Libyan security forces. The LIFG also allegedly attempted to assassinate Qaddafi four times and helped plan the Casablanca bombings with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group in May 2003. [80] [81] 


Following its ideology shift in 2009, the LIFG declared that tactics of indiscriminate bombings and targeting of civilians were not in agreement with its objectives. [82]


Political Activities

In 2007, imprisoned LIFG leaders began a series of two-year talks with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Muammar Qaddafi. [83] These discussions were a result of an initiative led by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi to engage in open dialogue with imprisoned militant groups. [84] These talks resulted in a new LIFG code of conduct and the release of over 250 LIFG members from prison. [85]

Major Attacks

  1. 1995: The LIFG instigated a number of violent clashes with the Benghazi police and was involved in frequent operations against Libyan security forces (unknown casualties).[86]
  2. February 1996: The LIFG attempted to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi by throwing a grenade at him while he visited a Libyan desert town (unknown casualties).[87]
  3. November 1996: The LIFG attempted to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi (unknown casualties).[88]
  4. November 1998: The LIFG attempted to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi (unknown casualties).[89]
  5. May 2003: The LIFG allegedly helped the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) plan a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco in May 2003 (43 killed, unknown wounded).[90]

Relationships with Other Groups

The relationship between the LIFG and Al Qaeda (AQ) remains unclear. While both share similar ideologies and LIFG members often joined AQ, the LIFG never condoned AQ’s strategy of targeting the west. [91] [92] Unlike other AQ affiliated groups, the LIFG never congratulated AQ for its 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, or the attacks on September 11, 2001. [93] On the contrary, LIFG leaders reportedly warned Osama Bin Laden against a large-scale attack against the U.S. in a meeting in Kandahar in 2000 before the September 11 attacks. [94] It was rumored that the LIFG formally joined AQ as an ally in November 2007, after Abu Yahaya al-Libi and Ayman al-Zawahiri announced an LIFG and AQ merger. [95] [96] However, senior leaders of the LIFG refused to acknowledge the merger and claimed that al-Libi did not have the authority to declare allegiance to AQ.[97] [98] [99] The distinctions between the LIFG and AQ grew after the LIFG published its 2009 “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People” that directly challenged AQ strategies and objectives. [100] 


LIFG fighter may have also cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The LIFG condemned the U.S. for its occupation of Iraq and agreed with AQ that a defensive jihad against the U.S. was necessary. [101] Documents seized in Sinjar, Iraq claim that over 100 Libyans from LIFG strongholds in eastern Libya moved to Iraq to join AQI between 2006 and 2007. [102] It is unclear whether LIFG leadership directed this movement. [103]


The LIFG had limited interaction with other groups, but it did attempt to work with other militant groups in the region. It unsuccessfully attempted to work with the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA) in the early 1990s. The LIFG sent a group of fighters to work with the GIA, who were then killed by the GIA. [104] This caused a hostile relationship between the two groups. The LIFG successfully worked with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) to plan the May 2003 Casablanca bombings. [105]

Community Relationships

The LIFG drew recruitment support in eastern Libya from civilians who supported the Sanusi monarchy, which ruled Libya between 1951 and 1969. [106] The Sanusi monarchy drew its political legitimacy from Islam and its goals to purify Islam from European influences. [107]


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