Ex-Afghan fighter denies Qaeda tie with Libya rebels

Sat Apr 9, 2011 11:18am GMT

By Michael Georgy

DARNA, Libya (Reuters) - Abdel Hakim al-Hasady, a former Islamic fighter in Afghanistan, now recruits, trains and deploys 500 rebels fighting to topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

He says he was once questioned for two months by U.S. agents in Pakistan for suspected ties to al Qaeda -- which he denies -- and was later imprisoned in Libya for three years.

The presence of Hasady and other Islamists among the rebels raises difficult questions for the United States and other Western powers, who want Gaddafi's overthrow but worry al Qaeda may establish a stronghold on the Mediterranean coast.

Gaddafi has accused al Qaeda of playing a direct role in Libya's unrest in a plot to destabilise the oil-producing, North African Arab country and set up a regional base.

He has labelled several insurgency leaders, including Hasady, as al Qaeda members or sympathisers.

Rebel leaders and fighters say they are inspired by popular revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, not al Qaeda.

Sitting in a mosque compound in Darna, an eastern Libyan town seen as sympathetic to Islamists, Hasady, 45, said he never had ties to al Qaeda.

Wearing a green military camouflage uniform with a pistol tucked into his belt, he expressed concern that the United States and other Western countries may take Gaddafi's al Qaeda allegations seriously and hold back on providing the heavy weapons and helicopters he says they need.   Continued...

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