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Abu Faraj al-Libbi

Al-Qa'ida operative Abu Faraj al-Libbi (sometimes spelled al-Liby) was captured by Pakistani police on 2 May 2005. Al-Libbi was apprehended after a tip led Pakistani police to a safehouse in Mardan, Pakistan. Pakistani and US officials claimed that al-Libbi was a major figure within the al-Qa'ida movement, often referring to him as the 3rd most important member after Usama Bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The announcement raised a good degree of controversy over whether the man arrested was actually Abu Faraj al-Libbi, as well as the degree of his prominence in al-Qa'ida and the threat posed by him. Initially some within the European intelligence community charged that the man arrested was in fact Anas al-Liby, another Libyan involved in the global salafist jihad, but those claims were shown to be false.

Two competing theories arose as to al-Libbi's exact role in al-Qai'da. There was a general consensus over some facts in the man's history. He is believed to have moved to Pakistan from Libya in the 1980s to fight with mujahadin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and the Afghan Communist government. Later he was believed to have moved to Sudan to join Bin ladin around 1992. Following 9/11, his role with al-Qa'ida appeared to have been a liasion with local Pakistani organizations. His specialty was believed to be with maps and diagrams. Questions came up over the degree of his authority and responsibility within the al-Qa'ida movement after his arrest.

The Pakistani and American governments characterized him as a major figure. President George W. Bush described him as one of Usama Bin Ladin's "top generals". According to the US and Pakistan, al-Libbi took over for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after the latter's arrest in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on 1 March 2003. KSM was a major operational planner in al-Qa'ida, responsible for organizing the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September, 2001, as well as other operations. Al-Libbi is accused of taking over in this role after KSM's arrest. Pakistani officials specifically stated their belief that al-Libbi was the principal operational organizer for al-Qa'ida within Pakistan. He was identified as the primary suspect in two assassination attempts upon Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf in December 2003. US officials also alleged that al-Libbi was involved in the planning of attacks upon the United States.

Accusations leveled towards al-Libbi did not originate with his arrest. He had been placed on a list of the six most wanted terrorists in Pakistan. In August 2004, the Pakistani government announced a reward of 20 million rupees ($340,000) for information leading to his arrest. The British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported on al-Libbi in September 2004. In the report, al-Libbi is described as the "Al-Qaeda third in command"(sic). The paper referenced Pakistani intelligence sources who cited evidence from interrogations of captured militants and e-mails that were seized when al-Qa'ida operative Mohammed Naeed Noor Khan was apprehended in July 2004. The sources believed that al-Libbi was running al-Qai'ida cells in the United States and Europe.

Dissenters claimed that al-Libbi was not that an important figure in al-Qa'ida and at best a mid-level coordinator. The Times of London quoted private French intelligence expert Jean Charles-Brisard on 8 May 2005 as saying, "Al-Libbi is just a 'middle-level leader'. Pakistan and US authorities have completely overestimated his role and importance. He was never more than a regional facilitator between Al-Qaeda and local Pakistani Islamic groups." In the same report, the Times anonymously quoted a "senior FBI official" as saying that al-Libbi's "influence and position have been overstated". Some pundits claimed that Pakistan and the US were interested in exagerrating the significance of al-Libbi's arrest in order to create an impression that their counter-terror efforts had been more successful than they were in reality.

Immediately after al-Libbi's arrest, Pervez Musharraf stated that al-Libbi would be held for trial in Pakistan and that he would not be turned over to US authorities. Al-Libbi was interrogated by officials from both countries however. Several media reports stated that information provided by al-Libbi led to arrests of other militants and greatly assisted intelligence efforts against al-Qa'ida.

On 1 June 2005, Musharraf announced that al-Libbi was indeed being handed over to the United States, in a reversal of previously announced policy. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated that although the US was at the time in talks with Pakistan about al-Libbi, the details of any possible extradition had yet to be worked out.

Pakistan's Foreign Office confirmed that al-Libbi was transferred to US custody on 6 June 2005.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:40:20 ZULU