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What became of the faces of Libya’s uprising?

Πηγή: The National
 By Mustafa Fetouri
6 Jan 2016

During the uprising in Libya in 2011, a few women made headlines and went on to become the voices of the revolt. Almost five years on, it’s worth asking where those headline-makers ended up and how they fared in the new Libya.

The most famous female face of the Libyan revolt was a young lawyer by the name Iman Obeidi, who was from eastern Libya.

On March 26, 2011, she walked into the crowded Rixos Al Nasr hotel after telling security guards that she worked there. The Rixos was where many international journalists and TV crews covering the war in Libya were staying.

Once inside the hotel, Obeidi went straight to a crowded restaurant, where many journalists were having breakfast. There, she announced that government troops had repeatedly raped her over the course of two days she spent in detention after she was stopped at a security check point in Tripoli.

In the chaos that followed, security personnel tried to bundle her out of the hotel, while some journalists tried to protect her and hear more of her story. In the end she was taken to an unknown location.

A few days later she was smuggled out of the country to Tunisia from where she later headed for Qatar.

However, by June, Obeidi and her family were put on a military plane and sent back to Benghazi in eastern Libya, which was under rebel control at the time.

Hillary Clinton, then US secretary of state, helped Obeidi obtain asylum in the US. She was eventually settled in Boulder, Colorado in July 2011, where her new life took on more twists and turns.

She abused alcohol and committed minor offences – it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with her. In September 2015, Obeidi was sentenced to six years behind bars after being found guilty of assault.

When she was in Libya, she was claimed to be the victim of the former regime. Now in the US, she is the aggressor and a convicted criminal.

The Libyan government in 2011 strongly denied her claims of rape and accused her of lying. Even today, her story is disputed and many people in Libya think she was a plant to further discredit the regime at the time.

A former detective told me in Tripoli last September that he knew her before 2011. He dismissed Obeidi’s story and said that the incident in March 2011 was “due to a dispute she had with one of her boyfriends”.

His claim cannot be verified and he refuses to disclose his name for security reasons.

Difficult as it is, Obeidi’s story remains one of the puzzles associated with the Libyan uprising five years ago.

In sentencing her in Boulder, the court ordered Obeidi to seek counselling for mental health issues, casting doubts on her account. The other side of her story is of course breaking the taboo surrounding rape and sexual crimes in Libyan society and in many other Arab countries.

Another well-known face of the Libyan uprising was a prominent lawyer and human rights activist.

Salwa Bugaighis was one of the early voices of the “revolution” in her home town Benghazi. She joined the National Transitional Council, which led the rebel movement at the time.

Bugaighis played a role in organising protests in Benghazi and was one of the first to accuse the government of using mercenaries, a claim that was disputed by Human Rights Watch at the time. Bugaighis dreamt of a free Libya in which women are equal to men and free speech is cherished.

However, she did not live to see if any of that had been achieved.

On June 25, 2014, Bugaighis was murdered in her home, minutes after she voted in Libya’s second elections after the uprising.

No one knows who killed her and why.

No one has been charged with her murder.

Even her housekeeper – who claimed to have been the only witness to the crime – was himself killed while in police custody in Benghazi.

These stories are only two examples of the many abuses that have happened since the country was plunged into chaos.

Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic and an award-winning journalist


Israel trained against Russian-made air defense system in Greece: sources

Πηγή: Reuters
Dec 4 2015

Israel has quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defence system that Russia has deployed in the Middle East and that could limit Israel's ability to strike in Syria or Iran, military and diplomatic sources said.

The sources said a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, sold to Cyprus 18 years ago but now located on the Greek island of Crete, had been activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May this year.

The activation allowed Israel's warplanes to test how the S-300's lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.

One defense source in the region said Greece had done so at the request of the United States, Israel’s chief ally, on at least one occasion in the past year. It was unclear whether Israel had shared its findings with its allies.

"Part of the maneuvers involved pitting Israeli jets against Greek anti-aircraft systems," one source said. Two other sources said the Crete S-300 was among the systems turned on.

The sources spoke to Reuters on condition they not be identified by name or nationality. The Greek and Israeli militaries declined to confirm or deny any use of the S-300 system during drills held in the Eastern Mediterranean last April-May or similar exercises in 2012 and 2010.

A senior Greek Defence Ministry official, asked whether the system was operating during Greek-Israeli military exercises, said: "At this moment the S-300 is not in operation." He said Athens' general policy was not to permit any other country to test the system's abilities.

The S-300, first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979, can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 300 km (186 miles) away. Israel is concerned by Russia's plan to supply S-300s to Iran.

Israel says Egypt, with which it has a cold peace, has bought a variant of the system. The Israelis also worry about Moscow's announcement last month that it will deploy the S-300 or the kindred system S-400 from its own arsenal in Syria, in response to Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet there.

Israel has bombed Syrian targets on occasion and is loath to run up against the Russians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met President Vladimir Putin at least twice in recent weeks to discuss coordination and try to avoid accidents.


Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that for Israel training against the Crete S-300 would be "precisely what you need" to study the system's radar frequency, pattern and reach.

"If you know all these details then you are perfectly fitted to replicate this same signal, which means you have a chance to imitate, to sort of bluff-echo" the S-300, he said.

"You can brutally jam it," he said. "You can take the signal and return it, and then you send another ping which imitates the same signal. So instead of one target, the radar operator sees three, five or 10 and he does not know where to fire."

Tal Inbar, senior scholar for the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said S-300s in areas where Israel operates or might want to operate would challenge its advanced, U.S.-backed military - but not insuperably so.

"In general, any system can be defeated this way or that. Some are harder and some are easier," he said. "The rule of thumb is that if your friends have a system that you are interested in, you can learn all kinds of things about it."

The Crete S-300 was originally bought by Cyprus in 1997, triggering a vitriolic response from Turkey, its decades-old adversary. Under pressure from Britain and NATO, then Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides agreed to store the S-300 on Crete. A 2007 Greek-Cypriot arms swap formally transferred it to Athens.

Greece has experienced a boom in ties with Israel since Israel's once-strong alliance with Turkey broke down in 2010.

After this year's joint drill, Israel's official air force journal said maneuvers had involved all of Greece's air combat arm and "other apparatuses". It offered no details, but quoted an Israeli air force captain as saying the exercise had fostered "flexibility in thinking and dealing with the unknown".

Warplanes in Libyan skies may signal next major battle in fight to contain Islamic State

Πηγή: The Guardian
By Chris Stephen
Dec 6 2015

Jihadis in Libya are seizing control of greater chunks of the fractured nation’s territory and imposing a rule of terror. As another strategic city, Ajdabiya, comes under Isis attack, military planners across Europe are preparing the way for Nato forces to intervene.

Libyans have become expert sky watchers. On many days, social media fills with pictures of the latest American drone or spy plane making low passes over Sirte, the local headquarters of Islamic State. There are grainy snaps of the squat, white Lockheed P-3 Orions, and hazier captures of dark drones, while discussion over a twin-engined aircraft that makes figure-of-eight passes could fill a chatroom. With the intensification of bombing of the terror group in Syria, Libya’s sky watchers think airstrikes are imminent.

Speculation about airstrikes heightened last week when the UN reported what intelligence agencies have been saying for months – that Libya has become Isis’s fallback position. More than 800 fighters sent from Libya to battle in Syria and Iraq have now made the journey the other way, as Isis expands its Libyan caliphate.

Last week France flew its first reconnaissance missions over Sirte, joining the drones and spy planes of the United States. This small town on Libya’s central coast was the birthplace of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi – and the scene of his brutal execution. During his tyrannical rule, Gaddafi turned what was a sleepy coastal village into a town of garish concrete, hoping to fulfill a megalomaniac dream to make it the capital of a United States of Africa.

Now the town’s giant concrete Ouagadougou conference centre is bedecked with black flags. The grounds outside are bloody execution sites for the terrorists who have brought Raqqa-style horror to north Africa. Recent escapees tell of a litany of horrific acts, including crucifixions and townsfolk hanged from mechanical diggers and lampposts, some accused of being apostates, some of being spies.

Barbers are banned from shaving off beards and women are forced to wear dark robes, while zealots ensure that music is banned from radio stations. “People live for one thing, which is to get out,” said one resident, newly arrived in Tripoli, the capital far to the west.

Sirte’s airbase, the biggest in Libya, is being readied by Isis to take suicide planes, while 85 of the town’s children have been paraded as “suicide cubs”, ready to detonate themselves for the cause.

FacebookTwitterPinterest An image from Twitter purporting to show an Isis ‘child radicalisation program’ in Sirte, Libya. Photograph: Twitter

Jihadism has a long history in Libya. Members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group staged an unsuccessful guerrilla rebellion against Gaddafi in the 1990s. That uprising was crushed, and its members fled to Afghanistan and Iraq. With the removal of Gaddafi in the bloody 2011 Arab Spring revolution, the jihadis came home.

The first sign of this was Ansar al-Sharia, or Partizans of Islam, which followed up attacks on British and French diplomats with the killing in September 2012 of the US ambassador Chris Stevens in the American consulate in Benghazi.

Then came Isis, seizing its opportunity in the summer of last year when elections were followed by civil war after Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misratan forces, seized Tripoli. The elected government fled to the eastern city of Tobruk and fighting has since raged across the country.

Taking advantage of the chaos, Isis quickly established a foothold in the eastern coastal town of Derna, spearheaded by 300 militants of the al-Battar Brigade, battle hardened in Syria.

But Sirte was the true prize, offering an airport, seaport and something Isis wanted more than anything else: oil. South of the town is the massive Sirte Basin, the centre of Libya’s oil industry. In a few months its units conquered the town and pushed south into the Sirte Basin, taking a 100-mile stretch of coastline. In January, it killed 22 Christians, 21 of them Egyptians, on the Sirte shore, triggering Egyptian airstrikes.

Many Ansar al-Sharia units defected to Isis, gifting it a base at Sabratha, 60 miles east of Tunisia’s border. Tunisia says Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi, the gunman who killed 38 tourists, 30 of them British, at Sousse, was trained at Sabratha, as were the gunmen who attacked tourists in the capital’s Bardo museum last March.

Isis in Libya has had reverses. In June, Derna youths, backed by a militia loyal toal-Qaida, rose up, pushing its units out of the town into the Green Mountain to the south. But a similar uprising in Sirte in August was brutally put down. After Isis regained control of the rebel district, survivors said, gunmen set fire to the local hospital, burning 22 patients alive. Last week, Isis launched its most audacious attack so far, striking at Ajdabiya, 70 miles east of Sirte, and threatening Libya’s four key oil ports. “Another assassination on Ajdabiya tonight, IS expansion,” one desperate Libyan tweeted 
last Friday night. “Wake up Libyans!”

FacebookTwitterPinterest The main square of Ajdabiya, at the time of the uprising against Gaddafi in 2011. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Fears are building among Libya’s neighbours. Tunisia, reeling from the slaughter last month of 12 presidential guards by a Libyan-trained bomber, has closed its border with Libya and on Friday banned Libyan planes from the capital, fearing suicide attacks.

In fact, alarm bells about Isis expansion in Libya have been ringing all year. In the summer, the European Union high representative, Federica Mogherini, warned: “In Libya, there is the perfect mix ready to explode and in case it explodes, it will explode just at the gates of Europe.”

In October, Wolfgang Pusztai, Austria’s former Libya defence attaché, told the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee: “The more Islamic State is put under pressure in the Middle East, the more active it will be in Libya.”

Loudest of all has been France’s defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, issuing periodic warnings that Libya has become the “hub” for Isis to supply terrorists and weapons to affiliated groups in Algeria and Mali and to Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Sources in Paris say Le Drian agreed to “go quiet” in the summer, as Europe put its faith in a UN mediation process, hoping that a newly united Libyan government could turn its guns on Isis. But those talks collapsed amid acrimony in October, the UN discredited and, even before the Paris attacks, talk in foreign capitals had turned to direct action.

Last week, the minister again sounded the alarm, telling a French magazine: “We see foreign jihadis arriving in the region of Sirte who, if our operations in Syria and Iraq succeed in reducing the territorial reach of Isis, could tomorrow be more numerous.”

The US has already struck. In June, two F-15s bombed what it said was an al-Qaida gathering at Ajdabiya. In November, the jets struck again, hitting Derna, with the Pentagon claiming to have killed a prominent Isis leader.

But pinpoint strikes have failed to slow the group’s expansion, and the possible loss of Ajdabiya will be a disaster for Libya, cutting off oil ports and the gas fields that generate electricity, a move that the London-based oil expert John Hamilton says would mean “game over” for the economy.

Officials from the American military’s African Command, Africom, based in Stuttgart, have been visiting the region and, should the political decision be made, western forces are already deployed in strength around Libya’s borders. Along with drones and spy planes, the US has bombers and Marine helicopter-borne units stationed in Spain and Italy. More US drones operate from two bases in Niger, guiding a 3,000-strong force of French paratroopers, Operation Barkhane, on the southern Libyan border against jihadi convoys passing out of the country.

RAF Tornados and Typhoons, newly arrived in Cyprus, are within strike range of Libya, as are jets on the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. And a dozen European warships are off the Libyan coast, currently tasked with an ineffective mission to intercept the country’s people smugglers.

But the military option comes with risks. Isis bases at Derna, Sirte and Sabratha would be obvious targets but, as in Syria, Isis units in Libya can melt into the civilian population. Hours after the US Derna strike last month, Sirte residents reported Isis gunmen forcing their way into civilian homes, calculating that US jets would not bomb them for fear of civilian casualties.

One crumb of comfort for western planners is that Isis has yet to become a mass movement in Libya. In what is a tribal-based society, the population is largely immune to calls to join a worldwide caliphate. Set against that are the continuing arrival of foreign volunteers from Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen.

As in Syria, only ground forces are likely to decisively crush Isis. Western diplomats, working out of Tunis, with Tripoli too dangerous, are continuing to try to persuade Libyans to unite against the terrorist threat. But the French jets and the US drones in the skies over Sirte are vivid proof that another narrative is taking shape.