Do Libyan Rebels Have Al-Qaida Links? The Obama administration says it hasn't yet made up its mind whether to arm Libyan rebels, in large part because there are still too many questions about who the rebels are and whether they have links to al-Qaida. The CIA has deployed covert teams to the country to try to find out more.
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Do Libyan Rebels Have Al-Qaida Links?

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Do Libyan Rebels Have Al-Qaida Links?

Do Libyan Rebels Have Al-Qaida Links?

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Next we're going to talk about a possible unintended consequence of the revolutions in the Middle East. It's the risk of terrorism. In a moment, we'll talk about what's happening in Yemen. We begin in Libya. The Obama administration says it has not made up its mind whether to arm Libyan rebels, in part because there are still too many questions about who the rebels are and whether they have links to al-Qaida. The CIA has deployed covert teams to Libya to try to find out more. NPR's Rachel Martin has our story.

RACHEL MARTIN: The American commander who oversees NATO forces put it this way.

MARTIN: We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al-Qaida...

MARTIN: That's Admiral James Stavridis, testifying on Capitol Hill last week.

MARTIN: But at this point I don't have detail sufficient to say that there's a significant al-Qaida presence or any other terrorist presence in and among these folks.

MARTIN: I think the admiral was going with a good hunch, which is they are a small minority, but we need more than a good hunch now.

MARTIN: That's Bruce Riedel. He's a former CIA official now with the Saban center for Middle East studies at the Brookings Institution. He says a key part of the CIA's covert mission in Libya right now is understanding who the rebels are. That means gauging alliances and assessing how much real support Gadhafi has among certain tribes. One tool the CIA uses is so-called walking-around money.

MARTIN: U.S. dollars, cash, that they can use to try to persuade tribes to switch sides. This is one of the things we did in Afghanistan in 2001. And if there's a tribal leader who's wavering between supporting the - Gadhafi or supporting the rebellion - we say how much? How much will it cost for you to come over?

MARTIN: That brings us back to the crux of the covert mission in Libya - figuring out what role Islamic extremists have in the rebellion. For more than a decade, the CIA has been tracking a terrorist organization called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has deep ties to al-Qaida. Again, Bruce Riedel.

MARTIN: We have Libyans in the senior hierarchy of al-Qaida today. We have Libyans fighting with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, against NATO forces, today. So there is a long standing pattern of Libyans being associated with al-Qaida and likeminded groups.

MARTIN: Up until a few weeks ago, the CIA's ally in fighting this group was Moammar Gadhafi. Now CIA teams on the ground have to figure out for themselves how much influence the group may have in Libya's rebellion. Dianne Feinstein chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

INSKEEP: There's no question that a call has gone out from al-Qaida and a number of other terrorist organizations, that people should come, report in, in Libya, and join the fight.

MARTIN: Feinstein says it's been impossible to determine exactly who is answering that call.

INSKEEP: No one knows. I can't tell you how many Islamic fundamentalists who want a jihad are in Libya today. I cannot tell you how many of them are on the front lines. I don't know. So we are working from a blind spot.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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