Gadhafi Charges Darnah Is Controlled By Al-Qaida
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is pinning part of the blame on al-Qaida for the uprising that is sweeping his country. Gadhafi this week singled out the city of Darnah in the east of the country as a place that he says is in the hands of al-Qaida.
It so happens that NPR's Jason Beaubien spent yesterday in Darnah, and filed this report.
JASON BEAUBIEN: A giant red, black and green flag of the Libyan opposition flaps from the minaret of the main mosque in the center of Darnah. The area surrounding the mosque has become a shrine to the revolution. Banners declaring Libya is Free and Gadhafi is a war criminal hang around the square.
Eleven young protestors who were killed in clashes two weeks ago with Gadhafi's security forces are buried on the grounds. They're now referred to here as the martyrs.
Ashur Borashit is a lawyer in Darnah, and he calls himself a volunteer of the revolution.
Colonel Gadhafi has said that this area here is controlled by al-Qaida. He says that it will become an Islamic Emirate if this is allowed...
Mr. ASHUR BORASHIT (Attorney): It's really - it's really a joke. Because you are now here, you are now here, in the middle of the Muslims' part. Now, here. Here is the center. If you can see that anybody around you is from the Qaida.
BEAUBIEN: People here say that when Gadhafi alleged that Darnah is being run by an al-Qaida operative, he was talking about Abdulhakim Haleel Asadi. Asadi denies having ties to any terrorist group, and says this is more of Gadhafi's nonsense. And Gadhafi, he says, is using this as a distraction.
Mr. ABDULHAKIM HALEEL ASADI: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The revolution was made by all the people, Asadi says. Even women joined us in this movement. Asadi, however, does say that he fled the country in the 1990's after a crackdown by Gadhafi on the Libyan opposition. He only explains that he went to Afghanistan, but wouldn't give any details of what he was doing there.
Documents seized by American troops from insurgents in Iraq in 2007, called the Sinjar Records, appear to show that Libyans made up a significant portion of the foreign insurgents fighting in that conflict. And almost half the Libyan fighters in Iraq came from a single city: Darnah.
Mr. ABDUL KARIM BENTAHER (Teacher): This is the security building.
BEAUBIEN: This is completely burned out here.
Mr. BENTAHER: It's burned out. Yes. And the other one is also connected to it.
BEAUBIEN: Sixty-year-old Abdul Karim Bentaher is an English teacher in Darnah. He says this city has long been a hotbed of opposition to Gadhafi. Unemployment, particularly among young men, is extremely high. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 released by WikiLeaks focused on how the east of Libya was spawning jihadists. The cable was titled "Die Hard in Derna."
In the mid-1990's, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group used the city as a base. The LIFG tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Gadhafi. The Libyan leader responded by unleashing his security forces on the area.
Last week, as the opposition protests grew across the country, Gadhafi threatened to go house to house to root out and crush his enemies. Bentaher says this was a tactic Gadhafi used here in Darnah the 1990s.
Mr. BENTAHER: He did it, in the past. Every house in Darnah was searched. I was here, and I attended it myself, you know.
BEAUBIEN: Bentaher says the uprising in Darnah and the rest of Libya, this time, is different. Rather than going house to house and terrifying the population, Gadhafi's forces fled. And Bentaher says there's no way Gadhafi is ever coming back.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, eastern Libya.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.