The Jihad and Christopher Stevens (Part II)
by DIANA WEST
October 30, 2012
To attempt to understand Christopher Stevens' long-standing interest in ben Qumu, the al Qaeda terrorist suspected of leading the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012 in which Stevens and three other Americans were murdered, we must seek context in more of Stevens' cables. (Thanks be to Wikileaks.)
On February 15, 2008, Stevens wrote a lengthy cable titled EXTREMISM IN EASTERN LIBYA. On one level it confirms that Stevens was NOT some liberal naif when he docked in Benghazi in April 2011 to serve as point man to the so-called "rebels"-- that cutesy bluff of a name which disguises a movement better described by Clare M. Lopez as "individuals and groups that were, at a minimum, allied ideologically with Al Qaeda." No real stretch to simplify and call Stevens the Obama administration's point man to al Qaeda.
This early 2008 cable recounts the analysis of a US-Libyan dual national who regularly visited eastern Libya concerning the "social, political and economic factors that have contributed to and faciliated participation by a disproportionately large number of eastern Libya's native sons in `martyrdom acts' and other insurgency operations in eastern Libya."
Notice what's missing from the list -- Islam. It's not completely missing, of course. Stevens makes note of mosques and "radical" imams who use "phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation and financial contributions." Islam itself, however, never is discussed as the doctrinal motivation for jihad "martyrdom." The following line sums up how it is that the centrality of jihad in Islam is circumvented: "Citing conversations with relatives, [redacted] said the unemployed, disenfranchised young men of eastern Libya had `nothing to lose' and are therefore `willing for sacrifice themselves' for something greater than themselves by engaging in extremism in the name of religion."
The cable also opens a window onto the ordinariness of this hate-filled pathology among the people of the region. Stevens' source describes a large dinner he attended in Derna -- hometown of ben Qumu and hotbed, bar none, of jihad-in-Iraq recruitment -- hosted by a family friend. "Conversation among the mostly middle-aged male group of guests focused on news that two young men from Derna had recently killed themseles in suicide operations in Iraq. Dinner guests offered a mix of `condolences and congratulations.' " The source "said he was struck by the level [of] sentiment against Coalition forces in Iraq, and by the obvious pride the dinner guests took in the fact that two of their native sons had `struck a blow' against `occupying Crusader forces in Iraq.' He emphasized that the dinner was one of the relatively few occasions in Libya in which he felt uncomfortable by dint of having US citizenship."
Stevens later being point man to the "rebels" would mean being point man also to these dinner guests, still swelled with pride over maiming and killing American troops in Iraq. Such is the poisonous essence of "Arab Spring."
The flow of eastern Libyan "pride" doesn't stop. The cable notes: "During [source's] last visit to the east in December , relatives and friends cited media reports to the effect that Libyans, most of them from Derna and points east, comprised the second largest cohort of foreign fighters identified in documents seized during last September's Objective Massey operation on the Syria-Iraq border. [Redacted] noted that a majority of those in Derna who raised the issue appeared to take pride in the fact that their small cty city had contributed disproportionately to the jihad against coalition forces in Iraq."
The cable continues, adding more fascinating if also sickening detail. Among other "martyrdom" factors, Stevens discusses "the influence of Libyan fighters who had fought in Afghanistan and now recruited young eastern Libyans for operations in Iraq, the influence of Arabic-language satellite televison broadcasts" -- al-Jazeera, the Qatari dictatorship's greatest weapon -- and the difficulties GOL (Government of Libya) had controlling the mosques in this region.
Part of the difficulty for GOL authorities in controlling eastern mosques is that the most zealous imams tend to preach in small suburban and rural mosques. He [source] mentioned the almost festive atmosphere of one trip, when relatives gathered to travel to a remote rural mosque to hear a `controversial' imam's sermon.
In his final "comment" section, Stevens writes: "The most troubling and difficult aspect of [redacted's] account is the pride that many eastern Libyans ... appear to take in the role their native sons have played in the insurgency in Iraq."
"Troubling," yes (putting it way mildly). But what did Stevens mean by "difficult"?
Two months later on April 10, 2008, Stevens wrote another cable detailing the Libyan government's rebuff over an idea proposing "US-Libyan cooperation on counter-ideological or `soft power' efforts to blunt the appeal of the extremist message in eastern Libya, arguing such efforts would be counterproductive."
On June 12, 2008, Stevens wrote a cable noted in Part 1 about the incarceration conditions of two ex-Gitmo detainees, including that of al Qaeda's ben Qumu, a son of Derna currently leading Ansar al Sharia.
The previous week, on June 2, 2008, Stevens wrote a cable that seems particularly significant. It stands out first for its florid title: DIE HARD IN DERNA.
From the "Summary":
Frustration at the inability of eastern Libyans to effectively challenge Qadhafi's regime, together with a concerted ideological campaign by returned Libyan fighters from earlier conflicts, have played important roles in Derna's development as a wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters in Iraq. ... One Libyan interlocutor likened young men in Derna to Bruce Willis' character in the action picture "Die Hard", who stubbornly refused to die quietly. For them, resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of 'jihad' and a last act of defiance
Resistance, huh? Didn't Stevens forget his quotation marks? Or is that how US diplomats think of acts of war against American troops who, if memory serves, were at that moment still attempting to stamp out al Qaeda in Iraq, prevent sectarian civil war from breaking out and "nation-build," all at the same time.
Also worth noting here is that this "frustration" about eastern Libyans' inability to challenge Qaddafi regime is not mentioned in the February 2008 cable. In the earlier cable, unemployment, disenfranchisement, etc., are the main political factors cited (as opposed to mosque/jihadist/"pride" factors) for inciting the high flow of eastern Libyan "martyrs" to Iraq. Another factor was opposition to "U.S. military presence in Iraq or any other Muslim country." There is nothing stipulating that frustration over Qaddafi's regime per se was inspiring jihad to Iraq.
Stevens goes on to discuss a trip made to Benghazi in early May 2008 during which his party made a side trip to Derna to visit the "old fort." Just a fun little tourist excursion into the heart of jihad, it seems.
While asking directions to the city's old fort, P/E Chief met local resident [Redacted] who happened to hail from the same tribe as P/E Chief's driver/guide. In typical fashion, [Redacted] promptly dropped what he was doing and spent and spent the next several hours accompanying us around Derna, a town of some 50,000 people.
That famous Derna hospitality. Or is it possible, given that the driver was tribal-kin with the source, this was a pre-planned meeting?
P/E/ Chief visited the Baab al-Shiha neighborhood, the site of the town's old fort (now all but gone) and the district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September's Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed.
Tourism or intelligence gathering? It would be interesting to ask the P/E Chief. Stevens goes on to describe the many mosques tucked away in the 'hood and also a palpable unfriendliness of the people. Then on to lunch in Derna, described in a section titled:
PERCEIVED U.S. SUPPORT FOR QADHAFI FUELS DESIRE TO FIGHT IN IRAQ.
Over lunch at a popular restaurant just off the waterfront, [Redacted] and his business partner (who declined to give his name) discussed at length the local political-economic, cultural and religious scene, noting that it was "well-known" that a large number of suicide bombers (invariably described as "martyrs") and foreign fighters in Iraq hailed from Derna, a fact in which the town "takes great pride". [Redacted] stressed the importance of the link between the domestic political situation in Libya and the flow of foreign fighters in Iraq.
I don't know how any American just sits there listening to a discussion of the "great pride" Derna men take in blowing up American men, who if they aren't dead now are fated to live out their lives without limbs, genitals or pieces of their brains. Meanwhile, is it just me, or has a strong line of disinformation just entered the cable? Suddenly and explicitly, it's not Islamic culture, it's not the "pride" of Benghazi, it's not the call of jihad against the wider West, it's not young Muslim men brainwashed by al Jazeera and incited to jihad by their imams, it's US support of Qaddafi that is responsible for the flow of men to fight the US in Iraq.
There was a strong perception, [source] said, that the U.S. had decided in the wake of Qadhafi's decision to abandon WMD aspirations and renounce terrorism to support the regime to secure counter-terrorism cooperation and ensure continued oil and natural gas production.
The source's perception was correct.
Many easterners feared the U.S. would not allow Qadhafi's regime to fall and therefore viewed direct confrontation with the GOL in the near-term as a fool's errand.
Wasn't that a very good thing? Stevens continues his account:
At the same time, sending young Libyans to fight in Iraq was "an embarrassment" to Qadhafi. Fighting against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq represented a way for frustrated young radicals to strike a blow against both Qadhafi and against his perceived American backers.
The wheels turn ...if we could just get rid of Qadhafi....then the fine young men of Derna would ... what?
I wonder: Could Derna 2008 be the real birthplace of "Arab Spring"?
To be continued.
Diana West is a journalist and columnist whose writing appears in several high profile outlets. She also has a website: DianaWest.net.