A photograph showing the father of the Manchester Arena bomber and Islamist Libyan commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj meeting the Taliban in the 1990s – The National
CAIRO – 8 July 2017: Con Coughlin, Defense and Foreign Affairs Editor of The Telegraph, wrote an article published Thursday in the U.A.E.-owned The National newspaper titled “Qatar poses a direct threat to the security of British people despite enjoying great privileges in the U.K..”
Coughlin highlighted the fact that Qatar owns many assets in the U.K. capital London, including iconic institutions such as Harrods, Royal Ascot and Goodwood motor racing grounds. Depending on its huge investments in the United Kingdom, Qatar looked to the British state for political support following the recent diplomatic crisis in the small Gulf country.
In the aftermath of several Arab states’ decision to boycott Qatar on June 5, Qatari Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdelrahman Al-Thani was the first senior official from the Gulf to visit U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on June 12. Sheikh Mohamed also spoke at Chatham House, the prestigious international affairs think tank, in London on Thursday.
However, Coughlin showcased indicators that Qatar may be a threat to the United Kingdom’s national security. Most of these indicators trace back to the civil war in Libya that began in 2014 and the extremist militant groups that control large portions of territories seized after the fall of former Libyan president Muamar Al-Gaddafi.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan Al-Qaeda militant in Afghanistan, former head of Tripoli’s military Shura Council, and current head of the Islamist Al-Watan Party in Libya, is on the verge of suing former U.K. foreign secretary Jack Straw (2001-2006) and the U.K. intelligence service MI6 over allegations they played a role in his and his wife’s kidnapping in Bangkok in 2004.
According to Al-Arabiya news website, Belhaj was one of the founders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in the 1990s and he later headed to Afghanistan.
His real name is Abdullah El-Sadek, and he was arrested in Malaysia in 2004 before he was transferred to Bangkok to be interrogated by the CIA and later deported to Libya in the same year.
Belhaj and his wife claim they were imprisoned and tortured by the Gaddafi’s regime and “they were only detained after Sir Mark Allen, then head of counter-terrorism at MI6, tipped off the CIA about their whereabouts,” according to Coughlin.
Belhaj retained strong ties with LIFG, with which the father of Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi was affiliated. The National published on Thursday a photo taken in 1990s of Ramadan Abedi, Salman’s father, along with Belhaj.
Ramadan Abedi worked for the Libyan security services before fleeing the country in 1991 after joining a number of Islamist groups.
“Ramadan Abedi fought in Afghanistan, met Osama bin Laden and participated in Al-Qaeda operations against the Soviets. He remained in Afghanistan until 1993,” a Libyan official told The National.
“Ramadan and Belhaj were leading figures in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group until 2008 when Libya issued an amnesty for members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated movement,” according to the National.
Abedi and his son Salman returned to Libya in 2011 to participate in the uprising that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. Salman returned to the U.K. but visited Libya several times.
He returned from his last trip on May 18 before committing the suicide attack on Manchester Arena on May 22 that killed 23 people, many of whom were children.
Ramadan, his wife Samia, and their other son Hashem remained in Tripoli where Ramadan joined a militia belonging to Belhaj’s Libya Dawn coalition which still controls part of the city.
The family was detained after the Manchester attack by Libya’s official security forces. The U.K. investigating team is working with the Libyan authorities to interrogate Hashem who is still detained in Tripoli.
British police disclosed recently that Salman was not working alone, contrary to what they announced earlier. They are working to establish the identity of those involved in training Salman “in explosive handling and orchestrating the plot.”
“Now the officers think the attacker had help procuring, assembling and storing the explosives in a white Nissan Micra car in the city prior to the attack. Libyan sources think Salman was trained in explosive handling by a unit at the Al-Hadba prison in Tripoli,” The National reported.
Al-Hadba prison was raided by the Libyan National Army where classrooms and training materials were discovered. These were used to teach militants and suicide bombers “bomb making and explosives handling techniques.”
Coughlin revealed that British intelligence officials are “taking a keen interest” in the terror list comprising 59 individuals and 12 entities receiving backing from Qatar. The list was set by the four Arab states of the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain.
Belhaj is among these individuals, and the Al-Watan Party he presides over has strong ties with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic cleric bearing a dual Egyptian-Qatari nationality.
Al-Qaradawi has been hosted frequently on Al-Jazeera to preach hate and violence advocating suicide bombing and militant jihad.
Belhaj has also appeared on Al-Jazeera, as well as a Libyan opposition figure with no mention of his terrorist affiliations.
Belhaj is also cooperating with the Qatar-based Libyan cleric Ali Al-Sallabi, the spiritual leader of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, who is also on the terror list issued by the four Arab states.
Sallabi was hosted on July 31, 2007 by Al-Jazeera to explain the ‘Jurisprudence of Victory and Empowerment’ which would enable the establishment of an ‘Islamic state’ as part of an episode of the “Kol Youm” (Every Day) news show broadcast on the Qatari channel for many years.
In 2011, Sallabi made a statement published on Al-Jazeera’s website declaring that “the little secular minority” in Libya is an enemy to the nation’s religion, as the vast majority of Libyans are Muslim. This was in response to Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Gebril’s calls for reconstructing a national army and dissolving armed militias.
Libyan military spokesperson Ahmed Al-Mesmary said in a press conference on Tuesday that Sallabi was in prison until 1981, before he joined Taliban in Afghanistan and has since been living in Qatar for 15 years.
Mesmary added that Sallabi and other terrorist leaders deny the existence of terrorism in Libya despite the presence of militants of different nationalities such as Sudanese and Yemeni nationals fighting in the Mediterranean country.
“Ali Al-Sallabi and his brother Ismail Al-Sallabi are funding the terrorist Shura Council in Benghazi. Abdel Hakim Belhaj was promoted as the substitute of Gaddafi. They were all funded by Qatar,” Mesmary stated.
Ismail Al-Sallabi is a leader of the Benghazi Defense Brigades, a grouping aligned with Ansar Al-Sharia, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya.
“These groups do not believe in borders between countries and want to make Libya a base to head to Europe and other neighboring countries,” Mesmary stated, referring to militant groups in Libya.
As The National reported, the Sallabi brothers were used by Qatar to funnel weapons and cash to such groups.
The current security and intelligence findings acquired through investigation reveal that terrorist assailants in the West are often affiliated with terrorist groups funded by the Qatari state and connected with terrorist and extremist personnel harbored in Qatar.