CAIRO, Egypt -- "We
will begin kidnapping Americans wherever they are found in Libya, God willing."
For the United
States, the capture of al Qaeda leader Nazih al-Ruqai, a longtime operative of
the terror organization, was an unvarnished victory. In Libya, however, not
everyone sees the raid as such a ringing success: A Facebook
group called "We Are All Nazih al-Ruqai, Oh America" was created shortly
after the raid and already has over 4,000 "likes." The message above is just
one of dozens of posts by jihadi sympathizers that threaten retaliatory
violence against the United States and the Libyan government. Some Libyans have raised
fears that the assault will weaken the already shaky central government in
Tripoli, by convincing people that it is unable to protect Libyans or defend
the country's borders.
Ruqai, who goes
by the nom de guerre Abu Anas
taken without a fight in the early morning hours of Saturday while on his
way home from morning prayers, and is currently being
interrogated aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio. According to a Library of Congress report,
Ruqai is an "intelligence specialist" who first joined up with Osama bin Laden
in the late 1980s. He has been indicted by a U.S. court for planning the 1998
U.S. embassy bombings in east Africa, which killed over 220 people, and has
reportedly been tasked by al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri with building an al
Qaeda network in Libya.
to kidnap Americans is just the tip of the iceberg of jihadi anger at Ruqai's
capture. Another post
contains a photoshopped image of Libyan militiamen storming the White House
lawn -- the inscription reads "Grant us our wishes, oh God."
highlight American defeats, in an apparent attempt to raise jihadi morale.
included an image that showed the aftermath of a bombing that has been
described as occurring in Iraq, with a tagline that read "Greetings to America,
do you want to repeat your losing experience?" Another message applauded
the failed U.S. raid in Somalia, in which American commandos targeted
a top leader of al-Shabab but were forced to withdraw before capturing him. The
posting attributed the failure of the assault, which occurred at the same time
as the operation against Ruqai, to "the steadfastness, courage, and resistance"
of al-Shabab's fighters.
Minister Ali Zeidan's government has
condemned the raid, describing it as the "kidnapping of a Libyan citizen."
Meanwhile, many Libyans have taken the assault as evidence that the government
is too weak to protect its own borders: As former Islamist militia commander
Abdul Bassit Harroun put
it, "this means the Libyan state does not exist."
is circumstantial evidence that the government in Tripoli may not have been as
in the dark about the raid as it claims to be. Ruqai's son -- drawing on an
account of his mother, who witnessed the incident -- said
that the men who seized his father were Libyans, and spoke with a Tripoli
accent. U.S. officials speaking to the New
York Times, meanwhile, said
that the Libyan government was willing to tacitly support the raid "as long as
they could protest in public."
sympathizers tended to also believe that Zeidan was complicit in the raid. Some
messages delivered ultimatums -- one gave
him 24 hours to retrieve Ruqai or resign, while another issued
a call for early elections. Such political pressure is not limited to the
extremist fringe: Libyan legislators have announced that they will summon
Zeidan to testify about his knowledge of the raid and the government's handling
of the incident.
Ruqai's supporters -- perhaps oddly, as they were defending a man known for
transnational terror attacks -- also expressed outrage at the prime minister's
failure to protect Libya's borders. "Is Libya became the backyard of the
world???" read one
question posed in English to Zeidan.
It is impossible to know
the gravity of the threat to either the United States or the Libyan government
from posts such as these -- there is, after all, a large gap between venting on
Facebook and carrying out an attack. However, there is no doubt that a sizeable
group of Libyans are angry about the U.S. raid this weekend, and the prospect of them
trying to take revenge for Ruqai's capture is just one more thing for the
beleaguered government in Tripoli to worry about.
ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images