BENGHAZI, Libya / ANKARA – As Turkey continues to transfer Syrian mercenaries to Libya, it has appointed a formerly Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist to lead its military operations against the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Several countries have denounced the move and have called on Turkey to respect Libyan sovereignty and maintain international peace.
A military official in the General Command of the Libyan Army revealed that Turkey recently assigned Khalid al-Sharif, former deputy emir of the Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), to lead military operations in Tripoli.
The LIFG was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States from December 2004 to December 2015.
According to a brief by the Jamestown Foundation:
“[Al-Sharif] was captured in 2003 and held prisoner in a secret CIA detention center in Afghanistan for two years. He was then returned to Libya and imprisonment under Gaddafi (Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 2015). Khalid controlled Tripoli’s Hadba prison until May 26, when it was seized by Haitham Tajouri’s Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, which then destroyed al-Sharif’s home (Libya Herald, May 27). A search revealed the prison to have contained a bomb-making factory (Libya Herald, June 4). In June, the Libyan National Committee for Human Rights tied Manchester bomber Salman Abedi to Khalid al-Sharif and other former LIFG members and demanded the International Criminal Court and the UN investigate “Qatar’s role as a financier of this group” (Arab News, June 3).”
The LNA alleges that al-Sharif recently returned to Tripoli from Turkey accompanied by Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), in addition to several Turkish specialists in the manufacture of explosives.
Al-Sharif is also accused of directly supervising the transfer of weapons and financial support to designated terrorist groups during his tenure as Under-Secretary of the Libyan Ministry of Defense in 2011.
In related news, 11 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries were killed during clashes with the LNA in recent days, bringing the number of known Syrian mercenary deaths in Libya to 279, including 13 child soldiers.
According to estimates, more than 8,500 Syrian fighters have been transported to Libya by Turkey.
Turkish interference in the Libyan civil war has prompted the foreign ministries of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to issue a joint statement in which they strongly condemned what it described as Turkish military intervention in Libya and Turkish illegal movements in the Mediterranean. They also urged Turkey to fully respect the United Nations arms embargo and stop the flow of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya, as such interference poses a threat to the stability of the neighboring countries in Africa, as well as in Europe.