Sun, Oct 23, 2011 | WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks: Qaddafi Regime-Orchestrated Attacks Against Berbers in Yefren
On December 24, individuals from the Revolutionary Committees (RevComm) and Libya al-Ghad (Libya of Tomorrow) descended on the predominately Amazigh (Berber) town of Yefren, attacking the homes of Berber leaders. The attacks — parts of which were filmed and posted on YouTube and opposition web sites — included beatings of counterprotesters and property damage. While anti-Berber sentiment in Libya is not a new phenomenon, the attacks come after a year of generally positive signals from the regime about greater respect for Berber rights. Even more curious than the timing was the joint action by conservative RevComm members and individuals purporting to represent Libya al-Ghad, an ostensibly reformist group led by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi.
Reference ID: 09TRIPOLI22
Created: 2009-01-13 14:57
Origin: Embassy Tripoli
DE RUEHTRO #0022/01 0131457
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O R 131457Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4314
INFO RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 0733
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0865
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0808
RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN 0028
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 1376
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0669
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0982
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4837
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000022
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND DRL/NESCA (SKWIRAM)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 1/13/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PROP LY
SUBJECT: REGIME-ORCHESTRATED ATTACKS AGAINST BERBERS IN YEFREN
REF: A) 08 TRIPOLI 588, B) 08 TRIPOLI 530 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy – Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
¶1. (C) Summary. On December 24, individuals from the Revolutionary Committees (RevComm) and Libya al-Ghad (Libya of Tomorrow) descended on the predominately Amazigh (Berber) town of Yefren, attacking the homes of Berber leaders. The attacks – parts of which were filmed and posted on YouTube and opposition web sites – included beatings of counterprotesters and property damage. While anti-Berber sentiment in Libya is not a new phenomenon, the attacks come after a year of generally positive signals from the regime about greater respect for Berber rights. Even more curious than the timing was the joint action by conservative RevComm members and individuals purporting to represent Libya al-Ghad, an ostensibly reformist group led by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi. End summary.
¶2. (SBU) On December 27, Berber opposition groups based in Morocco issued statements to London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat claiming that the predominantly Berber town of Yefren, some 150 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, had been “completely surrounded” by elements of the hard-line Revolutionary Committees and members of Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi’s Libya al-Ghad organization on December 24. Press releases from self-described oppositionists cited extensive regime-orchestrated violence against Berbers, as well as a government shutdown of all communications and travel into and out of Yefren. On January 1, the first evidence of the attacks appeared on YouTube, featuring a man identified as a RevComm member leading a group of 40-50 protesters contained by about 20 national police officers in light riot gear. (Note: Two videos are available at youtube.com/watch?v=P_P0tV693Wk and youtube.com/watch?V=YKzsQnl1im4. End Note.) During pauses between chants by the crowd of “Brother Muammar [al-Qadhafi], we are with you!”, the speaker argued that Berbers are actually Arab and that Berber community leaders had sought to destroy Libya’s national unity, a political “red line” that was not to be crossed. The video concluded with two protesters crossing the police line to kick the gate of a Berber leader’s home. The Berber website tawalt.com reported that protestors called Berber leaders “treasonous traitors” and called for their deaths.
¶3. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx (strictly protect)confirmed in a conversation with P/E Chief on January 7 that GOL elements had targeted Berbers in al-Shgarna, a suburb of Yefren. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that an elderly woman featured in slide shows about the incident posted on tawalt.com was his mother. Citing telephone and email exchanges with relatives, xxxxxxxxxxxx said seven buses and two trucks carrying individuals from the Revolutionary Committees and Libya al-Ghad arrived in Yefren on/about December 24.
¶4. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx said Abdullah al-Hwajj, Chair of Libya al-Ghad’s Human Rights Committee, led the group and directed much of the activity. (Note: In pictures of the incident posted on the website, al-Hwajj is the individual wearing a bright green hat. End note.) RevComm and al-Ghad members, joined by local police, initially targeted the homes of Berber leaders Salem Madi (a close relative of Madi’s), Imhemmed al-Hamrani and Isa Sijouk. Other homes and businesses were subsequently targeted as well. Madi and Hamrani had both been arrested previously in connection with their roles as leaders of the Berber community, most recently after they attended a World Amazigh Congress in Meknes, Morocco October 31-November 2, 2008. Sijouk was exiled in the 1990’s to Tunis, where he lived for 13 years, and had returned to Libya several years ago. RevComm and al-Ghad members broke windows at the three leaders’ homes, spraypainted the walls with epithets – including “death to you and your families” – and attempted to set at least one of the residences alight.
¶5. (C) According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, RevComm and al-Ghad members threw stones at and beat al-Shgarna residents who gathered to protest the attacks xxxxxxxxxxxx. A number of businesses and other residences were damaged, including several that were burned. Police threatened to imprison anyone who attempted to interfere with the RevComm and al-Ghad members. RevComm and al-Ghad members chanted anti-Berber slogans (“death to the Berber dogs”) throughout the incident.
¶6. (C) Noting that anti-Berber sentiment in Libya was “nothing new”, xxxxxxxxxxxx said Berber leaders and residents of al-Shgarna were nonetheless surprised by the attack and unsure about what prompted the timing of it. Yefren has been the target of regime-orchestrated, anti-Berber violence before, most recently TRIPOLI 00000022 002 OF 002 in 1983, when xxxxxxxxxxxx family home was destroyed and a large group of xxxxxxxxxxxx were imprisoned, some for years. Describing the recent attack as “serious”, he said there was “considerable fear” in al-Shgarna, Yefren and other towns in the Jebel Nafusa that the December incidents could signal a broader round of anti-Berber violence. Noting that the GOL and the Qadhafi Development Foundation (the latter is also headed by Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi) had sent positive signals between 2007 and mid-2008 about greater respect for Berber rights, he said Berber leaders were particularly troubled that Abdullah al-Hwajj, whom he described as “one of Saif’s right hands”, personally led the attacks. (Note: The GOL granted permission for the Amazigh World Congress to host a large gathering in Tripoli in August 2007; Prime Minister-equivalent al-Mahmoudi and Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi made high-profile visits to Berber communities in August and September 2007, respectively. End note.) The Morocco-based World Amazigh Congress is working to organize an emergency meeting, to be held in Geneva within the next two weeks, to review the incident and develop a public awareness campaign.
¶7. (C) Comment: While initial reports from xxxxxxxxxxxx raised doubts as to the veracity of the information, xxxxxxxxxxxx was able to provide detailed information that lends the news additional credibility. The unrest does not appear to have lasted much more than a day. xxxxxxxxxxxx around Yefren have been able to contact them by telephone without difficulty, and their relatives did not relay any news about the event, suggesting that it was relatively small and isolated. Emboffs passed through Yefren on January 10 as part of a scheduled trip and reported that there were no additional checkpoints on the highway or other obvious signs of recent disturbance. While there have been some positive developments since 2007 with respect to the GOL’s interaction with and rhetoric about the Berber community, Post’s request in March 2008 for Emboffs to visit the predominantly Berber town of Zuwara prompted a sharp warning not to interfere in internal Libyan affairs that some GOL officials believe could only have been authored by Muammar al-Qadhafi himself (ref B). That Saif al-Islam’s Libya al-Ghad would join forces with RevComm members is an unexpected development. Saif has repeatedly irked hard-liners by calling publicly for political reform and a turn away from the heavy-handed tactics of the past. He is closely involved in day-to-day management of Libya al-Ghad; it is difficult to believe that Abdullah al-Hwajj would have led such an effort without at least tacit approval from Saif. His apparent tack towards the old guard may signal an effort to curry favor with his most stalwart opponents – possibly in connection with his reputed aspirations to succeed his father – by making common cause against an easily identifiable group that represents the political equivalent of low-hanging fruit. End comment.