Abdelhakim Belhadj

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Abdelhakim Belhaj
Born (1966-05-01) 1 May 1966 (age 53)[1]
Souq al Jum'aa, Tripoli, Libya
Allegiance Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (1995–2000s[vague][clarification needed])
Libya National Transitional Council (2011–2012)
Service/branch Libya National Liberation Army
Commands held Leader of the al-Watan Party and former head of Tripoli Military Council
Battles/wars Afghan Civil War
Libyan Civil War

Abdelhakim Belhaj (Arabic: عبد الحكيم بالحاج‎‎, nom de guerre: Abu Abdallah Assadaq)[2] (born 1 May 1966) is a Libyan politician and military leader. He is the leader of the conservative Islamist al-Watan Party and former head of Tripoli Military Council.[3] He was the emir of the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi guerrilla group.[4][5]

Early life

Born on 1 May 1966 in the Souq al Jum'aa area of Tripoli, Belhaj studied at Al Fateh University, where he earned a civil engineering degree.[6] During the years after his studying, he is said to have travelled extensively, spending time in Sudan, Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, as well as London and Denmark.[7]

Libya, Afghanistan/Soviet war, LIFG

Wanting to rid Libya of Colonel Gaddafi, Belhaj joined other young Islamists who formed a group, but were chased from the country before they could achieve anything.[8] Leaving the country via Saudi Arabia he arrived in Afghanistan,[8] in 1988,[9] and became an Islamist fighter in the Soviet-Afghan war.[4]

In 1992, after the Mujahideen took Kabul, he travelled across the Middle East and Eastern Europe, before returning to Libya in 1992.[8] There he and others formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi from 1994 onwards. Belhadj was known during this period as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, and was part of the LIFG that fought an insurgency campaign based from eastern Libya. But after three unsuccessful assassination attempts on Gaddafi, the LIFG was crushed in 1998.[6]

Arrest in Bangkok, return to Libya via CIA rendition

Belhadj and other leaders of the LIFG fled to Afghanistan, and joined the Taliban. In 2002, after the 11 September attacks and Gaddafi's reconciliation with the West, an arrest warrant was issued for Belhadj by the Libyan authorities. In it, it was alleged by the Gaddafi government that Belhadj had developed "close relationships" with al-Qaeda leaders, and specifically Taliban chief Mullah Omar.[6] Based in Jalalabad, he is alleged to have run and financed training camps for Arab mujahideen fighters.[6] After the United States entered Afghanistan under the command of the United Nations to confront the Taliban, the remaining members of the LIFG left the country, and roamed Europe and South East Asia.[6]

The article reported that, following the US invasion of Afghanistan, Abdel Hakim was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001, and handed over to US security officials, but unlike other captives taken in Afghanistan, he was repatriated to Libya two months later.

Tracked by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), after a tip-off from MI6 gained from London-based informants,[10] Belhadj was arrested with his pregnant wife in 2004 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia.[8] Transferred on the same plane to Bangkok, he was then placed in the custody of the CIA, where he was retained at a secret prison at the airport.[4][8] Returned to Libya on the rendition aircraft N313P,[11] he was held at the Abu Salim prison for seven years.

In March 2010 under a "de-radicalisation" drive championed by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan authorities released him amongst 170 other Libyan Islamists.[4][12] In March 2011, Belhadj appeared in an unreleased Al Jazeera film, in which he praised the mediation of Saif al-Islam for his release. In response, Gaddafi's son said that the men who had been freed "were no longer a danger to society."[13]

In December 2011, Belhajd was reported to have begun legal proceedings against the British government over its role in his rendition to Libya.[14][15][16] Jack Straw is reported to have denied any illegality in his actions as Foreign Secretary in the face of accusations that he had approved the British assistance in Belhadj's capture;[17][18] Tony Blair continues to deny any memory of the incident.[19]

In December 2013, a High Court judge struck out Belhadj's case against the British government, on the grounds that if it were allowed to proceed it could potentially damage British national interests.[20] At an Investigatory Powers Tribunal in January 2014, his lawyers said they had reason to suspect that GCHQ had been intercepting their phone calls with Libya-based Belhadj, and noted: "The right to confidential client-lawyer communication is a fundamental principle of justice."[21] This later turned out to be the case, and but one case of many. "In how many cases has the government eavesdropped to give itself an unfair advantage in court?" wondered Dinah Rose, QC for Belhaj.[22] In 2015, GCHQ was ordered to destroy legally privileged material of another Libyan rendition victim, Sami al-Saadi, that it had illegally intercepted.[23]

Libyan civil war

Belhadj was made commander of the Tripoli Military Council, after the rebels took over Tripoli during Operation Mermaid Dawn in late August 2011.[24]

After the rebels had completed their take over of Tripoli, a joint rebel/Human Rights Watch team found documents related to Belhadj and his return to Libya, originating from both the CIA and Britain's MI6. Interviewed jointly by journalists from The Guardian,[10] Le Monde and BBC News's Jeremy Bowen, Belhadj showed the journalists documents relating to his case, and further co-operation between the CIA/MI5 and Libyan security forces under the command of Moussa Koussa. In a later interview with the captured Abdelati Obeidi, the former Libyan foreign minister under Gaddafi, commented that MI6 had been operating in Tripoli until the start of the revolution in February.[10]

As a result of the allegations, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a statement in the House of Commons, which ordered the inquiry under Sir Peter Gibson, the current UK Intelligence Services Commissioner, to be widened to cover the Libyan allegations.[25]


Belhadj resigned his leadership of the Tripoli Military Council on 14 May 2012, to begin his campaign for the Public National Conference elections. He plans to run as leader of the al-Wattan Party, a new political party launched in the week of 20 May.[3]


Abdelhakim Belhadj had at least one brother, Younis Belhaj, who became a senior figure in the Tripoli Council. His brother was killed in Bani Walid in late November 2011 when a group of rebels were ambushed by loyalist forces.[26]


  1. Jean-Pierre Perrin (29 August 2011). "Abdelhakim Belhaj ou le retour d'Al-Qaida". Le Temps (in French). Retrieved 1 December 2011. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> – Translated as Top Libyan Rebel Leader Has Deep Al Qaeda Ties
  2. "Libya to free 170 Islamist prisoners -charity". Reuters. 12 March 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Libya's Belhadj quits military post for politics". BBC News. 15 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "From Holy warrior to hero of a revolution: Abdelhakim Belhadj". Asharq Alawsat. Retrieved 26 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Libya’s election The right direction, Economist
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Profile: Libyan rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj". BBC News. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Profile: Libyan rebel commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj". BBC. 4 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "'We Are Simply Muslim': Libyan Rebel Chief Denies Al-Qaeda Ties". Time Magazine. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Vicken Cheterian (May 2012). "Libya's rebel leader with a past". Le Monde Diplomatique.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Chulov, Martin (5 September 2011). "MI6 knew I was tortured, says Libyan rebel leader". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Ian Cobain (8 April 2012). "Special report: Rendition ordeal that raises new questions about secret trials". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Ex-Islamists walk free from Libyan jail". Reuters. 1 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Ian Black (5 September 2011). "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – from al-Qaida to the Arab spring". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Holland, Lisa (19 December 2011). "Anti-Gaddafi Leader Sues UK Over Rendition". Sky News. Retrieved 12 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Norton-Taylor, Richard (11 April 2012). "Libyan dissident offered money to avoid MI6 appearing in open court". The Guardian. p. 2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "MI6 'to offer £1 million' in Libya rendition case". The Telegraph. 10 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Tom Whitehead (16 April 2012). "Straw under pressure over Belhadj rendition". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Dominic Casciani (13 December 2012). "UK pays £2.2m to settle Libyan rendition claim". BBC. Retrieved 13 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Richard Norton-Taylor (11 April 2012). "Tony Blair has 'no recollection' of Libyan dissident's rendition". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Norton-Taylor, Richard (20 December 2013). "Libyan told he cannot pursue rendition claim in case it harms UK interests". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Abdel Hakim Belhadj, Libyan Commander Suing Jack Straw, Concerned About Communications Intercepted By GCHQ". The Huffington Post UK. 14 January 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Bowcott, Owen (7 November 2014). "UK intelligence agencies spying on lawyers in sensitive security cases". theguardian.com. Retrieved 7 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Travis, Alan (29 April 2015). "GCHQ conducted illegal surveillance, investigatory powers tribunal rules". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Who is Abdul Hakim Belhadj, the leader of the Libyan rebels?". Middle East Monitor. 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Torture inquiry to examine UK-Libya intelligence links". BBC News. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Libyan protesters demand justice". Press TV. Tehran. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>