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Former militants now wage battle within Libya to discredit al-Qaeda

Encouraged by the younger Gaddafi, the leaders wrote a 400-page manifesto renouncing violence, challenging al-Qaeda's philosophies and condemning attacks on Western civilians in Muslim nations.

But some of the leaders who split from the original fold have publicly declared that the group had joined al-Qaeda.

Many of the former fighters said they still believe in waging war against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also consider the conflicts in the Palestinian territories and Somalia, where Islamists are fighting a U.S.-backed transitional government, legitimate forms of jihad.

"When America invades a country, the insurgency is legal and lawful. From a religious point of view, it is permissible and we have to support it," said Sadeq, the group's emir. "And U.S. policies in Israel and other places adds fuel to the fire."

Salabi, the mediator, agreed. "Violence against occupation is a sacred act," he said. "It is a sacred jihad."

The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, expressed concern about such comments.

"I don't know how you parse jihad," he said. "If it means that, 'If you don't do it in Libya, you are free to go and do it elsewhere,' that would be a little troubling to us."

It remains to be seen how the former militants will adapt to a Libya that in recent years has moved closer to the West. Saadi said his country is not "an ideal state under Islam." Others demanded strict Islamic sharia laws, with public amputations for convicted thieves and head-to-toe coverings for women.

"I am still a Salafist," said Tarreq Muftah al-Ghunnay, the group's former commander in Jordan, referring to the ultra-strict brand of Islam espoused by bin Laden.

The younger Gaddafi said he was confident the government could keep most of the released prisoners from returning militancy. But "nobody can guarantee anything 100 percent," he said.

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