On June 14 of this year, American F-15 fighter-bombers struck a meeting of high-level terrorist leaders in Libya, killing the notorious North African al-Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar but also hitting members of Ansar al-Sharia, an increasingly important terror group in the region. Ansar was behind, among other atrocities, the September 12, 2012, murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, progress has been made in U.N.-brokered talks to form a national unity government in the country, which has been chaotic since the NATO-backed overthrow of Moammar Qaddafi and has not had a proper government for months now. The talks have incorporated elements of Libya’s internationally recognized government, based in the city of Tobruk, and Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist insurgents that pushed the legitimate government out of Tripoli last year. The U.S. government has backed the talks, drawing accusations from many Libyans that it is bending over backward to accommodate the Islamists.
That plan might get even more unpopular if, as documentary evidence suggests, Libya Dawn is directly funding terror groups — one of the same groups, in fact, who killed four Americans in Benghazi.
Leaked documents from Libya’s central bank seem to show that Libya Dawn is funding an umbrella group of Islamists in Benghazi founded by and including Ansar al-Sharia, the terror group with American blood on its hands. In other words, just last month the U.S. military was bombing the same al-Qaeda-linked group to which the U.S. State Department might give a foothold in the next Libyan government.
The standard apology is that the Dawn Islamist coalition comprises “moderates” who can be distinguished from terrorists — and that we must ally with the moderate Islamists to defeat the terrorists who are daily gaining ground in Libya.
But the existence of these two checks, issued by the Central Bank of Libya, puts the lie to Libya Dawn’s moderation, provides potential evidence of a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and confirms what critics have long charged are disturbing, truly extreme ideological sympathies within Libya Dawn.
The payments, assuming they are real, make a farce of U.S. and U.N. support for the Islamist coalition’s claim to be recognized as ruling partners alongside the legitimate government.
The funds appear to be flowing to the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), an extremist coalition in Benghazi dominated by Ansar al-Sharia and founded by Ansar’s former leader, Mohammed al-Zahawi. BRSC has direct ties to al-Qaeda: Mohammed al-Zahawi, the former Ansar emir who started BRSC, once met with Osama bin Laden, and when Zahawi was killed in January 2015, he was eulogized by al-Qaeda as a martyr.
Libya Dawn has long been rumored to provide funds and weapons to this group. “The self-declared government in Tripoli does not hide its continued support by all means to the BRSC in its fighting against the Libyan Army in Benghazi,” Libya’s ambassador to the U.N., Ibrahim Dabbashi, who represents the internationally recognized Tobruk government, told me in an e-mail. Moreover, Dawn-affiliated militias in the city of Misrata are arming BRSC, a former Libyan government minister, Ali Mihirig, says.
Libya Dawn’s leaders have never distinguished themselves ideologically from Ansar. Libya Dawn’s former prime minister, Omar Al-Hassi, praised the group in 2014, calling it “simple, beautiful, and amiable.” The internationally recognized government, meanwhile, has maintained a strict anti-terror stance: After the June 14 air strike, the Tobruk regime announced that the U.S. had acted with its cooperation.
Until now, there has been no evidence of direct payments by Libya Dawn’s defense ministry to BRSC. But BRSC is listed as the payee on two March 24 checks from the Central Bank of Libya on account of the Dawn defense ministry. The two checks, in the amounts of 1 million dinars ($730,000) and 4,990,000 dinars ($3,666,000), appear to include payments to the families of “martyrs,” men killed while fighting for BRSC. A document that seems to be issued by the Libyan government orders the “Ministry for the Affairs of Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons” to make arrangements for payments to BRSC and Libya Dawn. (An English translation of the letter is here.)