[TABLE] [TR] [TR] [TD="class: fulltext, width: 500"]Both the rebel flag and the flag of al Qaeda are atop Benghazi's courthouse. [/TD] [/TR] [/TR] [/TABLE] By Sherif Elhelwa Edited by Mathaba It was at the courthouse in Benghazi where the first signs of what turned out to be a planned Western war against Libya became visible. And it was there that the NATO-rebel forces established their National Transitional Council and media center from which they told foreign journalists about their "fight for freedom". But according to multiple eyewitnesses -- myself included -- one can now see both the Libyan rebel flag and the flag of al Qaeda fluttering atop Benghazi's courthouse. According to one Benghazi resident, Islamists driving brand-new SUVs and waving the black al Qaeda flag drive the city's streets at night shouting, "Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West," a reference to previous worries that the country would be bifurcated between the NATO-rebels in parts of the east and the free Jamahiriya supporters in the west and the other parts of Libya. Earlier this week, I went to the Benghazi courthouse and confirmed the rumors: an al Qaeda flag was clearly visible; its Arabic script declaring that "there is no God but Allah" and a full moon underneath. When I tried to take pictures, a Salafi-looking guard, wearing a green camouflage outfit, rushed towards me and demanded to know what I was doing. My response was straightforward: I was taking a picture of the flag. He gave me an intimidating look and hissed, "Whomever speaks ill of this flag, we will cut off his tongue. I recommend that you don't publish these. You will bring trouble to yourself." He followed me inside the courthouse, but luckily my driver Khaled was close by, and interceded on my behalf. According to Khaled, the guard had angrily threatened to harm me. When I again engaged him in conversation, he told me "this flag is the true flag of Islam," and was unresponsive when I argued with him that historically Islam has never been represented by a single flag. The guard claimed repeatedly that there is no al Qaeda in Libya, and that the flag flying atop the courthouse is "dark black," while the al Qaeda flag is charcoal black. To many locals, it's a distinction without a difference. One man approached me with a friendly warning: "I recommend that you leave now; [the Islamist fighters] could be watching you." But none of this should be surprising. In Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, a well-known al Qaeda fighter and founder of the notorious Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), is now leading the rebel "military council" in Tripoli. A few weeks ago, Belhaj ordered his fighters to take command of the Tripoli airport. A few days later, Belhaj gave a speech emphasizing that his actions had the blessings of Libyas National Transitional Council (NTC). According to a Libyan who didn't want to be named, a special military group inside the NTC is calling on Salafi fighters with military backgrounds to join a special group fighting in the rebellion. "There will be special benefits if you join whether you die in battle, or when you return home," including monthly salaries. (One NTC source told me that Belhaj's fighters are the only rebel fighters who receive a monthly salary.) In a recent speech Moustafa Abdeljalil, the head of the rebels' NTC, declared the country an "Islamic state, and sharia law is the source of all our laws." It was indeed an odd declaration for a "leader", leading many to wonder: Who are Abdeljalil and the NTC trying to appease? It isn't uncommon to discover rebels with radical backgrounds. In an off-the-record interview, one NTC member spoke casually of his past, explaining that the Libyan government blacklisted him from the country for his ties to LIFG. He told me of his close association with Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the infamous "blind cleric" jailed for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who he helped ferry across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan during the mujahedeen fight against the Soviet Union. So it will surprise few that the ones who attempt to replace a so-called dicatorship with a real dictatorship assorted radicals, jihadists, Salafists and LIFG veterans.