Libyan Islamist militia leader to run in June poll

Reuters News
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Posted: May 15, 2012 3:32 PM
Libyan Islamist militia leader to run in June poll

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - One of Libya's most powerful militia leaders said on Tuesday he had registered his newly founded party for June's election for a transitional national assembly, swapping his post for a run at public office.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a former Islamist militant who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in last year's revolt, has considerable resources and a well-organized network of followers. His party could do well in the election on June 19 and give the 200-seat assembly, which will draft a constitution, a strong Islamist flavor.

"I registered my party yesterday, it is called Al Watan (homeland)," Belhadj told Reuters. "We have candidates in every Libyan city."

Belhadj resigned on Monday from his post as head of the Tripoli Military Council, his aide said.

An electoral commission official confirmed his registration for Libya's first free polls after 42 years of Gaddafi's rule.

Belhadj is a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which waged an insurgency against Gaddafi in the 1990s. He spent time with Islamist militants in Afghanistan, although he said he was not allied with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

He was captured, detained by British and U.S. intelligence services, and sent to Libya in 2004, where he was jailed. He renounced violence and was released from jail a few months before the uprising against Gaddafi.

After rebel fighters expelled Gaddafi's forces from Tripoli, Belhadj became head of the Tripoli Military Council, a heavily armed force of about 25,000 men.

It was among the most powerful of the volunteer militias that have held real power in the vacuum left by Gaddafi's downfall. In the past few months, though, it has ceded some functions to the newly created national police and army.

Belhadj ran the operation from a suite of rooms at the Radisson Hotel, overlooking Tripoli's port. Initially he held meetings in camouflage fatigues, but later swapped those for a suit as he tried to re-model himself as a civilian leader.

Lawyers acting for Belhadj are suing the British government, its intelligence services and a former British foreign minister, over his transfer back to Libya in 2004.

Belhadj alleges that Britain colluded in his "rendition" from Malaysia, where he was arrested in 2004, to Libya, despite knowing he faced torture at home.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Janet Lawrence)