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Libya Puts 'Al-Qaida Affiliate' On Stage

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Libya Puts 'Al-Qaida Affiliate' On Stage


Libya Puts 'Al-Qaida Affiliate' On Stage

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Libya today, government forces have been bombarding the city of Ajdabiya. Cars packed the roads as residents and some opposition fighters fled. Ajdabiya is in eastern Libya on the road to Benghazi, the stronghold for antigovernment forces. It would be a big loss for the opposition if reports are true that it is teetering under the onslaught.

NORRIS: In the capital, Tripoli, people have been making a lot of noise.

(Soundbite of fireworks and gunfire)

NORRIS: Fireworks and gunfire, possibly celebration at news of the government's success in the east.

At the same time, Libya's government insists it is not at war with its own people. The enemy, they say, is al-Qaida. And today, they set out to prove it. Journalists in Tripoli were taken to meet a man the government said was captured on the battlefield.

For reporters based in the capital, it was the latest in a series of government-arranged field trips.

NPR's David Greene went along.

DAVID GREENE: Today's trip is to a prison where Libyan officials say they've been holding al-Qaida members. They have been suggesting all along that al-Qaida is responsible for the uprising here in Libya. And we've just gotten off the bus and walked across a dusty parking lot. And apparently this is the prison we're arriving at right now.

(Soundbite of chatter)

GREENE: We do not get the warmest welcome inside. The building is called the National Department for Criminal Investigation, and officials seemed stunned to see people wandering around with cameras, they began yelling at us. Finally, we were brought into a conference room, and an official named Ibrahim Moussa introduced the man of the hour.

Mr. IBRAHIM MOUSSA (Prison Official): I can't believe I'm sitting next to al-Qaida affiliate. I'm just talking as if this is just a daily thing. His name -this is the person, his name is Saleh Abu Oba.

GREENE: The man looked tired, dressed in a black sweatshirt, gulping from a bottle of water. As Moussa went on with the introduction, the prisoner's al-Qaida connection seemed open to interpretation.

Mr. MOUSSA: When we talk about al-Qaida, it does not have to mean affiliating yourself directly to the caves in Afghanistan. It's a concept; it's a theory; it's an ideology; it's a method of working and fighting.

GREENE: Saleh Abu Oba cleared things up.

Mr. SALEH ABU OBA (Alleged Al-Qaida Prisoner): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: He was, he said, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. They're well-known Islamist radicals in Libya who've long opposed Moammar Gadhafi. As he went on, Moussa, the government official, was more than happy to serve as the event's translator, highlighting points in the story he liked the most.

Mr. OBA: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. MOUSSA: I will translate the - a lengthy translation.

Mr. OBA: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. MOUSSA: The bottom-line...

Mr. OBA: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. MOUSSA: The bottom-line is...

GREENE: The bottom-line, Moussa told us, was that Oba expected to be part of a peaceful uprising, but got disillusioned when things became violent

Mr. MOUSSA: And then he heard European countries, foreign countries, had their warships and he believed that foreign military intervention was to happen. And he said, I said to myself, I don't care how much I have difference with the government. I will not allow foreign armies to come in to Libya.

GREENE: Oba's story neatly fits the profile the government here has been highlighting. They claim Islamist radicals from outside Libya are behind the uprising. We were told Oba was arrested in Zawiya, a city west of Tripoli that Gadhafi forces retook last week.

Until recently, Oba said, he was living in Manchester, England, where his wife and children remain. Skeptical British reporters pounced - could he recite his zip-code, a phone number?

Unidentified Man: What was your number while in the U.K?

Mr. MOUSSA: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. OBA: 07725994482.

GREENE: The man insisted he came to this press conference of his own free will and that there was no agreement he had made with the government.

A lot of days here go like this. Journalists venturing out on their own are often stopped by police. A handful have been detained, even beaten. Often a government-sponsored trip is all we get.

Mr. MOUSSA: I thank you all for coming and, you know, thank you very much.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Tripoli.

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