Following are excerpts from an interview with Libyan rebel military commander in Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, which aired on France 24 Arabic TV, via Youtube, on September 1, 2011.
Abdelhakim Belhaj: "In 1989, [the Libyan regime] launched a large campaign against the Islamists, or against anyone involved in any [opposition] activity. I was forced to leave the country. I left for Saudi Arabia at the beginning of 1988, and from there to Afghanistan. […]
"I travelled to Afghanistan to support the just cause of the Afghan people. Everybody knows that Afghanistan faced a Soviet invasion in 1987. When I went to Afghanistan in 1988, my goal was to respond to the call, as dictated by our duty to help our brothers there.
"In Afghanistan, I was involved in many kinds of activities. I taught Arabic and other subjects to students in the refugee camps. I also participated in aid activities. There were many aid organizations there. I also participated in military activities in the framework of the resistance against the Soviet occupation.
"As we all know, the cause of Afghanistan was supported by the Islamic countries, by some Arab countries, and by many European countries, first and foremost the U.S. [sic], which was arming the mujahideen factions back then. My role was to support the Afghan revolutionaries, the mujahideen, in the liberation of their country, rescuing it from the Communist regime."
Interviewer: "What is your relation to the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb organization?"
Abdelhakim Belhaj: "I had no relation whatsoever with the Al-Qaeda organization. The claims made by some in the media about such relations are baseless and unobjective. We shared the same front, that of Afghanistan, but we all know that the Afghan cause drew thousands of supporters.
"Like others, I was present in Afghanistan. My military activity was limited to the fronts within Afghanistan. Many of the people who came from Arab countries were interested in various aspects, such as education, aid, and military activity. After the establishment of the Al-Qaeda organization, I was invited to join it, like all the people who were on the scene, but I refused, because I disagreed with Al-Qaeda's approach.
"In 1998, when the World Islamic Front for Fighting the Jews and Crusaders was declared, I received a letter. I was outside Afghanistan at the time. It was an invitation to join Al-Qaeda, but I refused to join that front. I held different views than those held by the people who formed this organization." […]