WASHINGTON - Dark, ominous clouds of civil war are gathering across Libya and embattled dictator Muamar Gadhafi's state of mind is of great concern.
He has pledged to fight those trying to overthrow his regime, expending his "last drop of blood" in the process. The vow has sent a chilling message to his rivals, current and former.
Noman Benotman, former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) told WTOP in an exclusive interview, he has no doubt that his own blood may be spilled in the process.
"No, honestly no, I don't (have any doubt), but I don't care," Benotman says.
The LIFG tried to assassinate Gadhafi in 1996 with the presumed help of British intelligence.
Benotman and other former and current members of the group, who were rounded up and imprisoned, believe Gadhafi may have already dispatched assassination squads to track them down for fear they will rise up against him again.
As a former ally of Osama bin Laden, who attended a 2000 meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to plan the 9/11 attacks, Benotman sees clear evidence this may be in the works.
"Especially when the regime starts to claim that this (uprising) is an Al Qaida plan and this is Al Qaida people protesting against, claiming they are trying to sabotage the country," he says. "So I think this message should make anybody really worried about their personal security if you are an ex member of the LIFG."
Benotman has since separated himself from Islamic extremism, renounced terrorism and says bin Laden "didn't have a clue" about what he was getting into when he attacked the U.S.
Other colleagues who were "reformed" by Gadhafi's anti-terror program say they, too, have turned their backs on terrorism.
But Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, isn't so sure. He believes Gadhafi's worry about former terrorists coming after him again may have merit.
"Those who have graduated from these reform schools, so to speak, that the Gadhafi regime sponsored, they certainly did so under duress," Schanzer says. "The Gadhafi regime announced them to be reprogrammed, but that certainly doesn't mean we should take the Gadhafi regime's word for it.
"Certainly it was in the interest of the regime to ensure that these fighters were reprogrammed and renounced violence, but I certainly don't trust anything that came out of that regime even after we had reconciled with them in 2004."
Benotman says the LIFG is allied with "the people."
"The last time I was in contact with some members was when I was in Tripoli on the 16th or 17th of February," Benotman says. "They themselves are afraid of their personal security, because they think they will be a target of the regime, and maybe assassinated or framed for some act of terrorism. So I think they are going to hide, because they start to believe they are a direct target for the regime's security forces."
There are unconfirmed reports that hundreds of people jailed on terrorism charges in Libya and being put through the government's reform program have been released, posing what Schanzer believes is a direct threat to Gadhafi.
"I think that the fact that these people were drawn to Islamism and then were captured and then, under duress, were forced to reconsider their beliefs, it doesn't mean that they took those beliefs to heart," he says. "I think that they certainly realize it was either that or to stay in jail."
Gadhafi's defiant behavior is extremely worrisome, especially to weapons of mass destruction experts.
"His mindset changes moment to moment," says former U.N Weapons inspector Dr. David Kay.
Kay, now a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, believes Gadhafi may still have weapons of mass destruction.
"A lot have been destroyed, but there still remains a significant amount of mustard gas," Kay says.
And he may use them.
"What you worry about most," Kay says, "is that he thinks he's about to be deposed and he decides to use everything he's got."
(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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