For months Libya has been entangled in political violence, with two rival governments trying to fill the political vacuum left by the 42-year Gaddafi regime.
Fighting between General Khalifa Haftar-led forces, loyal to Libya’s western recognised institutions, sheltered in the eastern town of Tobruk, and self-declared Islamist groups backed by the renewed General National Congress (GNC) and Omar al-Hassi’s cabinet, threatens to push the country into an even longer spiral of violence.
The armed confrontations between Haftar-led Operation Karama, or “dignity”, and its rival coalition Fajr Libya, “Dawn of Libya”, last week reached the oil terminals in the east.
Salah Badi, a former member of Libya’s first revolutionary parliament and commander of a military operation in Misrata during the 2011 uprising, is now the leader of Fajr Libya. A former Mirage pilot during the Gaddafi era, Badi resigned in protest against the Chadian war.
The rampant corruption that plagues state institutions convinced him to walk away from politics and return to the battlefield against Gaddafi loyalists like – as he claims – General Haftar.
Al Jazeera: What is Fajr Libya?
Salah Badi: Fajr Libya is a military operation designed to fight the rampant corruption inside the institutions. After the 2011 revolution rebels entrusted politicians [to run the country], but the new rulers came under the temptation of power. Two months after Haftar launched his counter-revolutionary operation in Benghazi, the rebels returned to their position to stop the [Haftar-led] military coup against national institutions.
Fajr Libya fighters do not have any political agenda other than protect the February 17 revolution.
Al Jazeera: Which fundamentalist groups today are the main “terrorist” threat?
Badi: There are some pockets of fundamentalists in Fajr Libya’s orbit. But the majority are the moderate ones. For instance the Shura Council of Benghazi revolutionaries is split into two groupsZ: one group supports the establishment of a national state while the other backs an Islamic order of things. The first group, however, represents the majority. They do not adhere to any Islamic ideology, they drink alcohol and smoke as all the revolutionaries in western Libya do. Only the town of Derna in Libya has notable presence of Islamists, although this is the result of Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on the Islamists.
After the 2011 revolution, they [Islamists] regrouped and targeted the security forces backing the old regime.
Let me be clear: If the westerners believe that terrorism is strictly related to Islamism and people with beards, then I won’t accept their standards.
Terrorism grows where there is no stability, like the IRA in Ireland, ETA in Spain or Red Brigades in Italy. So if Libya goes through a prolonged period of instability, the fundamentalists will become a real threat. The fundamentalists have the ability to continue fighting for longer periods than we can. I hope this message reaches Europe and the entire West.
Let me be clear: If the westerners believe that terrorism is strictly related to Islamism and people with beards, then I won’t accept their standards. Terrorism is any violent act not needed such as the slaughter of a rebel from Zuwara last week. He was patrolling the border with Tunisia in Ras Jadir and fighters from Haftar’s forces cut his throat.
Al Jazeera: What is your relationship with GNC and with the al-Hassi government?
Badi: I resigned from GNC in January 2014 because of the presence of significant numbers of MPs who represent regions supporting Gaddafi. They tried to undermine efforts to instil the national democratic institutions, while others [GNC members] depend on Islamist networks like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
I personally don’t even agree with the Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy. I strongly believe that a political party based upon a religious view is pointless, especially in Libya where all of the population is Muslim.
Al-Hassi’s cabinet is a very weak government and it is crowded with non-patriotic people taking advantage of this emergency period. However, this [cabinet] is an emergency body and we should keep it. GNC today is the only institution able to ensure the implementation of the future constitution.
Al Jazeera: What is Fajr Libya’s position on the upcoming constitutional referendum?
Badi: We anxiously await the constitutional referendum. Libyans urgently need a text to refer to in the legal framework. Some had doubts about the al-Baida-based Draft Constitution Assembly’s sympathy with the rival parliament and government in Tobruk, but in my view, the submission of the constitution draft to the Libyan people ensures the rule of democracy.
However, even after the approval of the constitution, Fajr Libya will be ready for any options such as the split of the country.
Al Jazeera: Has the UN-led national dialogue resulted in a solution to the current conflict in Libya?
Badi: The time for this [dialogue] has expired. When I met the UN Special Envoy Bernardine Leon in September, I made two requests for the sake of Libya’s stability; to arrest Gaddafi-era criminals still at large outside of Libya, and to freeze their assets. But no action has been taken.
Furthermore, the international community has been undermining us for long, not complying with the verdict of the Supreme Court about the illegitimacy of [the Tobruk-based] House of Representatives.
The foreign countries’ intervention and their proxy wars have blown up the narrow road for the national political dialogue.
Today, the solution goes through military operations where Libyans can get rid of foreign intervention. Then Italy, still manning Libya, should quit its ambiguity and report the truth without any bias [the Italian embassy is the only western embassy still operating in Libya and the Italian government said it would lead any future international intervention.]
Al Jazeera: How would Fajr Libya react to an international military intervention?
Badi: Frankly we will retreat and Fajr Libya will be dismantled. We will not fight the western forces. But I fear that the situation will worsen as only the fundamentalists will remain.
We ask the West to be absolutely neutral. They can only make sure that there is no outside backing for any party involved in the conflict.
Al Jazeera: Can the fighting at the oil terminal facilities represent crossing the red line for the international community?
Badi: We repeatedly appealed to al-Thinni’s government to free the oil facilities in the east from the federalists, the Jathran movement, and their allied ‘criminals’, but no action was taken. So we were obliged to move forward starting from Es Sidra oil port.
Also referring to the international airport in Tripoli, I did not intend to destroy it. Our strategy was to keep the fight outside the city of Tripoli. And the airport road was our main target as it represents the stronghold of the pro-Haftar Zintani forces in the capital.
Unfortunately, they took shelter in the airport and launched attacks from there. So we were forced to fire back on the national infrastructure.
Al Jazeera: Does ISIL exist in Libya?
Badi: Here in Libya there are groups inspired by ISIL ideology, but there’s no hierarchy or designed network.
ISIL flourished in Iraq as a reaction to the government neglect of the demands of the Sunni population. Then in Syria this ideology found itself in the perfect position after President Bashar [al-Assad] called over Shia forces from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, triggering sectarian violence and the violence targeting foreigners. I am afraid that if the crisis continues, Libya will become a haven for radicals like Iraq and Syria [have]. This concern pushes me to fight in order to put an end to the ongoing conflict.