The “Turks of Libya” have become a Trojan horse that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using to try to gain access to Libyan territory, helped by their dominance in political life in Tripoli and Misrata, as the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and its allied militias include elements belonging to this ethnic group.
Among the most prominent GNA leaders who are Libyan Turks are its interior minister, Fathi Bashagha; Salah Badi, commander of the Al-Samoud Brigade, the largest and most powerful wing within the Misrata Brigades; Mukhtar al-Jahwai, commander of the so-called Anti-Terrorism Force, which is one of the Misrata militias; the Salafi Abdul Raouf Kara, leader of the GNA interior ministry’s Salafi-jihadist RADA Special Deterrent Force; and Brotherhood member Mohamed Sowan, leader of the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), the Brotherhood’s political arm in Libya.
The Libyan Turks make up about 5% of the country’s total population of 6 million people as of 2017. Their origins date back to the Ottoman era, which lasted for more than three and a half centuries between 1551 and 1912. During the 1970s and 1980s, about 120,000 Turkish worker poured into Libya.
The presence of Turks in Libya gave Erdogan the pretext to repeat what he did in Syria and Iraq under the pretext of protecting minorities of Turkish origin, as he claimed that a million Libyans of Turkish origin deserve his support and intervention to come to their aid.
Thanks to the Turkish support, the terrorist militias in Tripoli managed to plant their feet and establish a strong role for themselves as a result of the chaos and insecurity in the country. Ankara smuggled various weapons and equipment to its agents in Libya and the militias loyal to the GNA in Tripoli, including the tactical vehicles, US anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, Turkish pistols, Bulgarian machine guns, and drones.
Among the most prominent militias that Turkey supports on the ground to implement its agenda are the Tripoli-based Nawasi Brigade, which controls a number of political and military headquarters and has about 1,000 armed men, and the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, which has 3,500 armed militants stationed at its headquarters at an ostrich farm in Tajoura, in addition to the RADA Special Deterrent Force, which is the largest and most armed group, with about 5,000 fighters. In addition to other militias as well, the Turkish regime has also succeeded in recruiting members of the Tuareg tribes in Libya to use as agents in the war that Turkey is igniting in the Sahel and Sahara region.
Al-Samoud Brigade commander Salah Badi is Erdogan’s most prominent agent in Libya. He had been a soldier in the Libyan army, but following the events of October 2011, he was elected to the parliament in 2012, before declaring his support for the General National Congress’s National Salvation Government.
Badi fought in the ranks of the Libya Dawn forces in 2014, but then he moved to Turkey in 2015, before returning to Tripoli again in 2018 to try to gather the diaspora of bloodthirsty militias against the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Another important Erdogan man in Libya is Abdul Raouf Kara, the commander of the RADA Special Deterrence Force, which controls Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, has stood against the LNA’s movements, passing up his religious ideas for his Turkish affiliation.
GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, who has influence in Misrata, is a Brotherhood member in the government and has strong ties with Ankara.
Serving Turkish interests behind the scenes in Libya is Ali al-Sallabi, the representative in Libya for Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He coordinates the transfer of arms and funds coming from Doha.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Sowan, the leader of Libya’s Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP), is one of Erdogan’s most prominent supporters in Libya. In March 2012, he founded the JCP to be one of the many arms of the international Brotherhood organization and an ally of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP). After the resounding fall of the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt in July 2013, the JCP transferred its allegiance from the Brotherhood’s Guidance Office in Cairo to the headquarters of the AKP in Ankara, which has come to embrace the Brotherhood’s militias scattered around the world.
Another Erdogan supporter in Libya is Abdulrahman Asswehly, who is the grandson of Ramadan Asswehly, one of the founders of the short-lived Tripolitanian Republic in 1918. Abdulrahman served as a parliament member in the General National Congress and chaired the High Council of the State before the establishment of his Union for the Homeland party. He maintains good relations with the Brotherhood, and he is closely related to Ahmed Maiteeq, who briefly held the position of prime minister in 2014 before becoming deputy prime minister in 2016.