“We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential Al Qaeda, Hezbollah,” said Admiral James Stavridis, commander of NATO forces, who testified before the Senate Tuesday. “We have seen different things. But at this point I don’t have detail sufficient to say there is a significant Al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence.”
Overall, he said, the opposition leaders appear to be “responsible men and women.”
And yet while the regime's true believers like Mr. Salah echo Qaddafi's Al Qaeda allegations in Tripoli, on the ground in rebel-held territory there is only marginal evidence of Al Qaeda fighters or their ideals.
Outside Ajdabiya, Abdullah ElHeneid, who helps run the pro-rebellion Libya Hurra (“Free Libya”) satellite channel, surveyed the wreckage of Qaddafi’s tanks.
“The dead? A lot of them are brainwashed and think they’re fighting Al Qaeda,” he says. “They’re Qaddafi’s victims too. But we have to fight for liberty.”
So far, the opposition has largely demonstrated that its demand for change echoes those expressed throughout the Arab world in recent months: an end of dictatorship. They codified those aims in an eight-point “vision of democratic Libya” issued Tuesday.
While most experts agree that Qaddafi is grossly exaggerating the Al Qaeda threat to discredit his opposition, eastern Libya has had a history of Islamic militancy. Documents captured by the US military from Al Qaeda in Iraq show that eastern Libya – and especially the city of Derna – provided per capita far more foreign fighters in Iraq from August 2006 to August 2007 than anywhere else in the world.