Libya has, recently, become more active in the war on terror. This may seem strange, since Libya has hosted Arab terrorists for decades. Libya is also a dictatorship run by a very religious Arab nationalist; Moammar Khadaffi. Whats going on here? Several things. First of all, Khadaffi is also a monumental flake and incompetent when it comes to running a national economy. Despite vast oil wealth, Libya is poor, and its people are pretty pissed off about that. However, Khadaffi is good at one thing; running a police state. Its believed that over ten percent of the population are on the state payroll (for small amounts of cash, and favors) as informers. Khadaffi is such an oddball, that even his fellow Arab dictators consider him an oddball, and often make no secret of this opinion. Khadaffi, and Libyans, ignore this, for Khadaffi appears pretty off-the-wall most of the time.
But Khadaffi isnt stupid. After Iraq was invaded in 2003, he suddenly renounced terrorism and abandoned his attempts to create chemical and nuclear weapons. This new policy inflamed Islamic radicals in Libya, but did not produce an outbreak of Islamic terrorism in Libya. Thats because Islamic radicals have been fighting Khadaffi for over a decade already. Libya, like all other Arab nations, had thousands of its young men go off to fighting in Afghanistan during the 1980s. When they came home to Libya, they decided that their government wasnt Islamic enough, and tried to overthrow Khadaffi. They failed, and most of them were killed, imprisoned or driven into exile by the late 1990s. The few who survived in Libya kept quiet, until now.
Several Islamic terrorist groups have shown up in Libya over the past year. The most prominent of these (if only because of their ability to publicize themselves) has been The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Jama'at al-Islamiya al-Muqatila), or LIFG. So far this year, there have been several violent incidents between LIFG members and the security forces. The terrorists have not proved themselves very terrible so far. In one incident, an LIFG killer, armed with a sword, went after some policemen. The cops pulled out their pistols, and, well, you may have seen that one play out in the movies.
The Islamic terrorists know who their real enemy is, and during the 1990s made several unsuccessful assassination attempts against Khadaffi. Groups like LIFG understand that most Libyans are fed up with Khadaffi and all his posturing and inefficiency. Before Osama bin Laden got distracted with killing infidels (non-Moslems), guys like Khadaffi were at the top of the al Qaeda hit list. But al Qaeda gave up trying to take Khadaffi down, because thugs like Khadaffi know how to deal with Islamic terrorists. For example, after the Iraq invasion of 2003, many Libyan Islamic radicals wanted to go to Iraq and fight the Americans. Khadaffi let them, and gave orders that any who survived and tried to return home, were to be shot on sight.
The traditional (in the Arab world) way of dealing with violent dissent (like Islamic terrorism) is to come down hard on the malcontents, and err on the side of too much violence. But Khadaffi also has to deal with some truly new, and very dangerous ideas circulating throughout the Arab world. No, not Islamic conservatism, but democracy. The last thing Khadaffi wants is democracy. He knows most Libyans are unhappy, and would vote him out of office if given a chance. Khadaffi is trying to improve the economy, and is bringing in lots of foreign experts to help him do it. Thats why he dumped support for terrorism and nukes, in order to get out from under UN embargos. But its going to take a while to undo decades of misadministration. In the meantime, all those foreigners just inflame the Islamic radicals. To cope with this, Khadaffi plans to hire at least another 100,000 people for the security forces. Life is not going to be easy for anyone in Libya over the next few years.