It was here at the courthouse in Benghazi where the first spark of the Libyan revolution ignited. It’s the symbolic seat of the revolution; post-Gaddafi Libya’s equivalent of Egypt’s Tahrir Square. And it was here, in the tumultuous months of civil war, that the ragtag rebel forces established their provisional government and primitive, yet effective, media center from which to tell foreign journalists about their “fight for freedom.”
But according to multiple eyewitnesses—myself included—one can now see both the Libyan rebel flag and the flag of al Qaeda fluttering atop Benghazi’s courthouse.
According to one Benghazi resident, Islamists driving brand-new SUVs and waving the black al Qaeda flag drive the city’s streets at night shouting, “Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West,” a reference to previous worries that the country would be bifurcated between Gaddafi opponents in the east and the pro-Gaddafi elements in the west.
Earlier this week, I went to the Benghazi courthouse and confirmed the rumors: an al Qaeda flag was clearly visible; its Arabic script declaring that “there is no God but Allah” and a full moon underneath. When I tried to take pictures, a Salafi-looking guard, wearing a green camouflage outfit, rushed towards me and demanded to know what I was doing. My response was straightforward: I was taking a picture of the flag. He gave me an intimidating look and hissed, “Whomever speaks ill of this flag, we will cut off his tongue. I recommend that you don’t publish these. You will bring trouble to yourself.”
A week ago, Obama was touting his foreign policy leadership:
President Barack Obama sought on Saturday to cast himself as a strong leader on foreign policy, highlighting a U.S. pullout from Iraq and the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as success stories.
In a message Obama is likely to push in his 2012 re-election campaign, he said his leadership had made it possible to turn the page on a decade of war and refocus on bolstering the U.S. economy and paying down the national debt.
Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that Gaddafi’s death and the announcement that all U.S. troops would be removed from Iraq this year were “powerful reminders of how we’ve renewed American leadership in the world.”