CAIRO, Egypt — "We will begin kidnapping Americans wherever they are found in Libya, God willing."
For the United States, the capture of al Qaeda leader Nazih al-Ruqai, a longtime operative of the terror organization, was an unvarnished victory. In Libya, however, not everyone sees the raid as such a ringing success: A Facebook group called "We Are All Nazih al-Ruqai, Oh America" was created shortly after the raid and already has over 4,000 "likes." The message above is just one of dozens of posts by jihadi sympathizers that threaten retaliatory violence against the United States and the Libyan government. Some Libyans have raised fears that the assault will weaken the already shaky central government in Tripoli, by convincing people that it is unable to protect Libyans or defend the country’s borders.
Ruqai, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi, was taken without a fight in the early morning hours of Saturday while on his way home from morning prayers, and is currently being interrogated aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio. According to a Library of Congress report, Ruqai is an "intelligence specialist" who first joined up with Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. He has been indicted by a U.S. court for planning the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in east Africa, which killed over 220 people, and has reportedly been tasked by al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri with building an al Qaeda network in Libya.
The threat to kidnap Americans is just the tip of the iceberg of jihadi anger at Ruqai’s capture. Another post contains a photoshopped image of Libyan militiamen storming the White House lawn — the inscription reads "Grant us our wishes, oh God."
Other posts highlight American defeats, in an apparent attempt to raise jihadi morale. One post included an image that showed the aftermath of a bombing that has been described as occurring in Iraq, with a tagline that read "Greetings to America, do you want to repeat your losing experience?" Another message applauded the failed U.S. raid in Somalia, in which American commandos targeted a top leader of al-Shabab but were forced to withdraw before capturing him. The posting attributed the failure of the assault, which occurred at the same time as the operation against Ruqai, to "the steadfastness, courage, and resistance" of al-Shabab’s fighters.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government has condemned the raid, describing it as the "kidnapping of a Libyan citizen." Meanwhile, many Libyans have taken the assault as evidence that the government is too weak to protect its own borders: As former Islamist militia commander Abdul Bassit Harroun put it, "this means the Libyan state does not exist."
However, there is circumstantial evidence that the government in Tripoli may not have been as in the dark about the raid as it claims to be. Ruqai’s son — drawing on an account of his mother, who witnessed the incident — said that the men who seized his father were Libyans, and spoke with a Tripoli accent. U.S. officials speaking to the New York Times, meanwhile, said that the Libyan government was willing to tacitly support the raid "as long as they could protest in public."
Jihadi sympathizers tended to also believe that Zeidan was complicit in the raid. Some messages delivered ultimatums — one gave him 24 hours to retrieve Ruqai or resign, while another issued a call for early elections. Such political pressure is not limited to the extremist fringe: Libyan legislators have announced that they will summon Zeidan to testify about his knowledge of the raid and the government’s handling of the incident.
Meanwhile, Ruqai’s supporters — perhaps oddly, as they were defending a man known for transnational terror attacks — also expressed outrage at the prime minister’s failure to protect Libya’s borders. "Is Libya became the backyard of the world???" read one question posed in English to Zeidan.
It is impossible to know the gravity of the threat to either the United States or the Libyan government from posts such as these — there is, after all, a large gap between venting on Facebook and carrying out an attack. However, there is no doubt that a sizeable group of Libyans are angry about the U.S. raid this weekend, and the prospect of them trying to take revenge for Ruqai’s capture is just one more thing for the beleaguered government in Tripoli to worry about.
Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases.| The Complex |
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| The Cable |