We are fighting Qatar-backed militias: Libyan National Army

'If the terrorists prevail in Libya today, they will be in Europe tomorrow,' Colonel Ahmed al-Mesmari, Libyan National Army spokesman

Fallouts. Colonel Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman of the Libyan National Army, speaks during a news conference, on June 2. (AFP)

2017/06/18 Issue: 111 Page: 4

The Arab Weekly
Hassan Abdel Zaher

Cairo- The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Mar­shal Khalifa Haftar, is working to eradicate Is­lamist militias, includ­ing groups supported by Doha in the restive North African country, spokesman Colonel Ahmed al-Mes­mari said.

“Qatar has been heavily involved in the destruction of our country since the downfall of the Muammar Qaddafi regime in 2011,” Mesmari said in a telephone conversation from Benghazi after several Arab governments cut diplomatic ties with Doha.

Haftar’s LNA, which supports the eastern-based government in To­bruk against the rival UN-backed government in Tripoli, has said that its priority was combating Islamist militias, a position that has won the support of neighbouring Cairo.

“We have been trying to convince the world of the negative role Qatar played in our country but nobody listened to us in the past,” he said.

Mesmari, at a news conference June 7 in Benghazi, said Libya planned to file a complaint against Qatar at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing it of a series of assassinations. He said Qatar was behind the killing of Qaddafi defec­tor Major-General Abdul Fatah You­nis and an assassination attempt against Haftar.

Mesmari presented documents and videos that he said confirmed Qatar’s support for radical Islam­ist militias. Among the papers was a letter purportedly from Moham­ed Hamad al-Hajri, acting chargé d’affaires at the Qatari Embassy in Libya that Mesmari said proved that Doha had deployed units to Libya in 2012.

In the interview, Mesmari assert­ed that Qatar was funding several Islamist militias in Libya, including some linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). “They [the mili­tias] have direct ties to a Qatari liai­son office based in Tunisia,” he said.

He added that Qatar facilitated the travel of ISIS military com­manders from Syria and Iraq to Libya, which they intend to use as a base for terrorist operations in neighbouring countries and poten­tially Europe.

“We have proof of what we say and we will do everything we can to sabotage Qatari plans in our coun­try,” Mesmari said. “Doha spon­sors a large number of the militias we are fighting now, sending huge amounts of money to them.”

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen and Libya’s eastern-based government cut ties with Qatar in early June, citing Doha’s alleged financing of extremist and terrorist groups. US President Donald Trump has ex­plicitly denounced Doha funding terrorism at a “very high level.”

Mesmari said that Qatar’s objec­tive in backing non-government militias was to destabilise nation­al institutions, particularly the military.

“It backs militias in our country with the only goal of destroying the LNA,” Mesmari said. “This is also why it backs the Muslim Brother­hood in Egypt and does everything possible to tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian Army. It must know that we will not let it succeed.”

The LNA, which has a strong presence in eastern Libya but lit­tle elsewhere, faces a very difficult mission to establish control over all Libya. Apart from the extremely complicated nature of the conflict in Libya and the presence of a large number of militias, the LNA has lit­tle support from the wider interna­tional community.

So far, Mesmari said, the only country backing the LNA is Egypt, which has offered training to its officers and pilots. However, the biggest problem facing the army, observers said, is a UN embargo on arms supplies.

“While terrorists and militias have unfettered access to arms from countries backing them, including Qatar, the army is denied access to arms,” said Abu Salah Shalabi, a member of Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament.

Mesmari talked about his army having footage and proof of arms and supplies being airdropped to al-Qaeda and ISIS. He said his forc­es were badly in need of arms and that they wished the international community would understand they were fighting terrorists on behalf of the whole world.

“If the terrorists prevail in Libya today, they will be in Europe tomor­row,” Mesmari said. “The interna­tional community needs to realise this and not leave us alone in this fight.”

Hassan Abdel Zaher is a Cairo-based contributor to The Arab Weekly.

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