E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/15/2018
SUBJECT: EXTREMISM IN EASTERN LIBYA
TRIPOLI 00000120 001.2 OF 004
CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: A U.S.-Libyan dual national who regularly visits family members in eastern Libya recently described for us social, political and economic factors that have contributed to and facilitated participation by a disproportionately large number of eastern Libya's native sons in "martyrdom acts" and other insurgency operations in Libya and Iraq. A reportedly deliberate GOL policy to keep the east poor as a means by which to limit the potential political threat to Qadhafi's regime has helped fuel the perception among many young eastern Libyan men that they have nothing to lose by participating in extremist violence at home and in Iraq. The prospect of financial compensation for their impoverished families motivates some, but local pride in eastern Libya's historical role as a locus of opposition to occupying forces of various stripes is also an important factor. The fact that eastern Libyan mosques are more numerous and remote, together with tight local social networks, has reportedly circumscribed the ability of GOL security organizations to monitor and control the activities of radical imams as effectively as elsewhere in Libya. Unlike the rest of the country, sermons in eastern Libyan mosques are laced with phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. While senior regime figures, including Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, appear to have recognized that the east merits more attention and investment, the reported ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations' efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated. End summary.
2.(S/NF) In a meeting February 5, U.S.-Libyan dual national XXXXXXXXXXXX(strictly protect) told P/E Chief that eastern Libya remains a locus of extremist activity over which GOL security services have comparatively limited control.
GOL KEEPS EAST POOR TO KEEP IT POLITICALLY DISENFRANCHISED ...
3.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said eastern Libya suffers from a disproportionately high level of unemployment, particularly for young men between the ages of 18 and 34. "At least half" of the young men in that demographic are unemployed or only intermittently employed. The situation reflects in part the Qadhafi regime's belief that if it keeps the east poor enough, it will be unable to mount any serious political opposition to the regime. Explaining the rationale, he cited a Libyan proverb: "If you treat them like dogs, they will follow you like dogs".
... BUT RECENT VIOLENCE SUGGESTS GOL'S APPROACH FLAWED
4.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said recent events in Benghazi and Derna suggest that the GOL's premise is flawed. Family members with whom he is in regular contact told him during his visit that there were violent clashes between local extremists and GOL elements late last year. In one incident, extremists opened fire in proximity to a Benghazi hospital in connection with their attempts to secure medical assistance for a sick or injured comrade. In another, there was an explosion or an exchange of gunfire (accounts differed) at a traffic circle in a Benghazi exurb in connection with an attempt by a police officer to stop a vehicle being used by extremists. (Note: Both incidents were reported late last year in other channels. This is the first mention we've heard of these events from other sources. End note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX also offered non-specific accounts of raids by extremists, whom they understood to be affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, on police and military installations to secure weapons.
"NOTHING TO LOSE"
5.(S/NF) Citing conversations with relatives, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the unemployed, disenfranchised young men of eastern Libya "have nothing to lose" and are therefore "willing to sacrifice themselves" for something greater than themselves by engaging in TRIPOLI 00000120 002.2 OF 004 extremism in the name of religion. "Their lives mean nothing and they know it, so they seek to give meaning to their existence through their deaths", he said. The lack of jobs and dim prospects for future employment, together with increased costs of living, mean that many young men lack the means to marry, leaving them without a key measure of social status and stability in what remains a traditional society. As in parts of neighboring Egypt, the average age at which men marry has increased in many parts of eastern Libya. Many now marry in their early to mid-30's, which would have been considered "middle age" in the not too distant past.
COMPENSATION FOR MARTYRS' FAMILIES AN INCENTIVE FOR SOME
6.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX flatly stated that some young men, particularly those from more impoverished clans, are motivated by the promise of long-term financial compensation for their families should they complete "martyrdom acts" in Iraq or elsewhere. Noting that incomes in the east are low, he offered that extremist networks are able to incentivize young men to kill themselves by offering comparatively small payments of 150-200 Libyan dinar/month (approximately 120-160 USD/month) to families of "martyrs". (Note: As a point of reference, most government salaries range from 250 to 330 Libyan dinar per month. End note.)
"PERVERSE PRIDE" AS GEOGRAPHICAL LOCUS OF RESISTANCE A DRAW FOR OTHERS
7.(S/NF) The fact that the east has been comparatively disenfranchised, together with its historical role as a locus of opposition to the Ottoman and Italian occupations, contribute to a "perverse sense of pride" among eastern Libyans in their role as a main supplier of young men for jihad efforts in Iraq and elsewhere, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. He recounted a large dinner in Derna hosted by a family friend that he attended in summer 2007. Conversation among the mostly middle-aged male group of guests focused on news that two young men from Derna had recently killed themselves in suicide operations in Iraq. Dinner guests offered a mix of "condolences and congratulations" to the two young men's relatives.
8.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said he was struck by the level 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 U.S. citizenship. In XXXXXXXXXXXX view, eastern Libyans are not necessarily anti-American, but are strongly opposed to a U.S. military presence in Iraq or any other Muslim country. In the 1980's, the talk had been directed against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; now, it was focused on the U.S. presence in Iraq.
9.(S/NF) Noting that the leader of Libya's resistance against the Italian occupation in the early 20th century, national hero Omar Mukhtar, was from the eastern village of Janzour, XXXXXXXXXXXX cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that young men from Derna were motivated to undertake suicide operations in Iraq solely by unemployment and the chance to secure a stipend for their families The region had a long, proud history of opposing occupation forces of one stripe or another; its residents took pride in their willingness to "fight for justice and their faith" despite their relative poverty.
IRAQ SEEN AS A "LOCAL" ISSUE FOR YOUNG EASTERN LIBYANS
10.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that for many young eastern men, jihad in Iraq was perceived to be a local issue. Among the factors fueling that perception, he pointed to the proselytizing 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 television broadcasts, use of the Internet to exchange information and coordinate logistics, and the comparative ease of travel to/from Iraq. During his last visit to the east, 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. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that a majority of those in Derna who raised the issue appeared to take pride in the fact that their small city had contributed disproportionately to the jihad against coalition forces in Iraq. TRIPOLI 00000120 003.2 OF 004
"CODED" MOSQUE SERMONS MORE RADICAL IN EAST
11.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. XXXXXXXXXXXX makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday 'khutba', are laced with "coded phrases" urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to "martyrdom operations" were not uncommon. By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.
ARCHITECTURE, GEOGRAPHY COMPLICATE GOL CONTROL OF EASTERN MOSQUES
12.(S/NF) 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 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. Unlike Tripoli, mosques in the east tend to be smaller and more numerous, making it harder to monitor all of them. Architecture and local heritage also play a role: many mosques in the east don't physically resemble traditional mosques elsewhere in the country, reflecting in part the pseudo-secret tradition of the Sanussi lodges that evolved in eastern Libya in the mid-19th century. The fact that many eastern mosques are less readily identifiable make it harder for GOL security organizations to identify them and easier to hold unobserved meetings and sermons, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. He claimed that it is "widely known" in the east that mosques in town centers are more closely monitored by GOL security organizations; however, it has been more difficult for security organizations to monitor smaller, more remote mosques in exurbs and towns around Benghazi and Derna.
AS DO TIGHT FAMILY, SOCIAL CIRCLES
13.(S/NF) Citing conversations with relatives, XXXXXXXXXXXX said it is "common knowledge" that GOL security organizations attempt to monitor mosque sermons and activities, particularly Friday 'khutba' sermons. (Note: In Tripoli and other parts of the country, an officially-sanctioned Friday 'khutba' theme and talking point-equivalents are distributed to mosques, often by facsimile. End note.) In addition to the proliferation of smaller, less visible mosques, the ability of security organizations to effectively monitor eastern Libyan mosques is circumscribed by the comparatively tight social and familial structure. Communities in the east tend to be smaller and more tightly knit; outsiders are easier to spot and families "watch out" for members who may have been turned by GOL security organizations to report on the activities of their relatives and neighbors.
14.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX related the story of a young man from Derna who was recently suspected of reporting to GOL security organizations on who attended his local mosque and what was said there. The alleged informant was ostracized by his fellow worshippers, townsmen and even family members. After losing his job, reportedly in part because of his "treachery", he fled to Egypt and has not been heard from since.
15.(S/NF) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX account affords a relatively rare insider's look at the social, political and economic factors in eastern Libya that have contributed to and facilitated participation by a disproportionately large number of its native sons in "martyrdom acts" and other insurgency operations in Iraq. Conventional wisdom holds that the east is poorer and more disenfranchised in part by deliberate design; however, senior GOL officials have recently made a point of spending more time and investing more effort there. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, the regime's most public face of political and economic reform, chose to hold the first and second meetings of his annual Youth Forum in Benghazi in 2006 and 2007, and gave important addresses to large crowds there. In the run-up to both events, he spent considerable time in and around Benghazi, promoting economic and social development projects under the auspices of the ostensibly non-governmental Qadhafi Development Foundation, which he heads. Among them was a billion dollar-plus "green" project for development of an environmentally-friendly tourism/business zone TRIPOLI 00000120 004.2 OF 004 adjacent to the Graeco-Roman ruins at Cyrene, near Benghazi. Work on an extensive renovation of Benghazi's port, designed to help rejuvenate shipping volume and create local jobs, also continues. The most troubling and difficult aspect of XXXXXXXXXXXX's account is the pride that many eastern Libyans, particularly those in and around Derna, appear to take in the role their native sons have played in the insurgency in Iraq. The reported ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations' efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated. End comment.
READ ALSO :CONFIDENTIAL Wikileaks Libya-> http://libyasos.blogspot.com/2011/06/confidential-wikileaks-libya.html