A rare interview with a top Libyan intelligence official reveals that, as an unintended consequence of the French intervention to quash a radical Muslim insurgency in nearby Mali, which forced al Qaeda in the Mahgreb to move north earlier this year, Libya has now become the main base of the terror group in the region, heightening the instability of what is already a volatile country.
“Libya has become AQIM’s headquarters,” says the intelligence source, adding that in just the last few weeks three new al Qaeda camps have opened in southern Libya.
The terror group’s boosted presence in Libya comes at a time when the struggling country is reeling from several threats to—or attacks on—Western targets.
On April 23, jihadist bombers sought to attack the British Council in Tripoli just minutes after other members of a suspected al Qaeda cell managed to detonate a powerful blast outside the French Embassy. The embassy bombing left two gendarmes injured—one seriously—and wounded several locals. The attack on the British Council failed—thanks to the incompetence of the jihadists.
As The Daily Beast revealed last week, the British Council, a government-funded educational body under the aegis of the British foreign office, was also an al Qaeda target April 23 in the first attacks on foreign missions in the capital since the ouster 18 months ago of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Libyan and foreign security officials fear the attacks may herald the start of a jihadist terror campaign in the country.
British officials have declined to confirm or deny the planned attack, saying, “Our security policy is not to comment on security matters.”
But more details of what happened outside the British Council have now been divulged to The Daily Beast by local sources who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, indicating that the attack wasn’t in fact foiled by alert security guards, but was botched by a bomber who panicked after he parked his car, heavily laden with explosives, too close to a high concrete bollard and was unable to open his door.
Security sources says the would-be terrorist—he’s been dubbed the Keystone Bomber—then tried to exit through a window, prompting a guard, apparently oblivious to the danger, to call out, offering help.
Mistaking the offer of assistance as a challenge, a companion in a nearby getaway vehicle sped away, turned at a junction, and crashed into a parked vehicle before escaping. The bomber also drove off, prompting the alarm reported last week by The Daily Beast of jihadists hunting for another high-profile Western target to attack.
The whole saga was captured on CCTV cameras at the British Council in the smart residential district of Hay Andalous, a few blocks from the French embassy. The attacks were clearly coordinated with the British Council explosion planned to go off six minutes or so after the embassy bomb.
Despite the botched operation outside the British Council, foreign and Libyan security officials say the planning and bomb making involved in the attacks were of a high standard. At the embassy the bombers parked the car as close as possible to the perimeter wall, so when the blast hit, concrete shards were hurled in all directions. The British Council bomber was clearly ordered to do the same thing.