Two former Afghan Mujahedeen and a six-year detainee at Guantanamo Bay have stepped to the fore of this city's military campaign, training new recruits for the front and to protect the city from infiltrators loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.Wait until he gets wind of that Koran burning in Florida.
The presence of Islamists like these amid the opposition has raised concerns, among some fellow rebels as well as their Western allies, that the goal of some Libyan fighters in battling Col. Gadhafi is to propagate Islamist extremism.
Abdel Hakim al-Hasady, an influential Islamic preacher and high-school teacher who spent five years at a training camp in eastern Afghanistan, oversees the recruitment, training and deployment of about 300 rebel fighters from Darna.
Mr. Hasady's field commander on the front lines is Salah al-Barrani, a former fighter from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or LIFG, which was formed in the 1990s by Libyan mujahedeen returning home after helping to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan and dedicated to ousting Mr. Gadhafi from power.
Sufyan Ben Qumu, a Libyan army veteran who worked for Osama bin Laden's holding company in Sudan and later for an al Qaeda-linked charity in Afghanistan, is training many of the city's rebel recruits.
Both Messrs. Hasady and Ben Qumu were picked up by Pakistani authorities after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and were turned over to the U.S. Mr. Hasady was released to Libyan custody two months later. Mr. Ben Qumu spent six years at Guantanamo Bay before he was turned over to Libyan custody in 2007.
They were both released from Libyan prisons in 2008 as part of a reconciliation with Islamists in Libya.
Islamist leaders and their contingent of followers represent a relatively small minority within the rebel cause. They have served the rebels' secular leadership with little friction. Their discipline and fighting experience is badly needed by the rebels' ragtag army.
Among his followers, Mr. Hasady has the reputation of a trained warrior who stood fearlessly at the front ranks of young protesters during the first days of the uprising.
And his discourse has become dramatically more pro-American, now that he stands in alliance with the West in a battle against Col. Gadhafi.
"Our view is starting to change of the U.S.," said Mr. Hasady. "If we hated the Americans 100%, today it is less than 50%. They have started to redeem themselves for their past mistakes by helping us to preserve the blood of our children."
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