Benghazi: A spokesman for Libyan rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi`s regime on Wednesday played down allegations by a top NATO commander that there may be al Qaeda fighters in their ranks.
"We don`t have this organisation in Libya because their culture is different from ours," Colonel Ahmed Bani told reporters in the rebel stronghold Benghazi.
"If there are any Libyans who were associated with al Qaeda around the world and are now in Libya, they are fighting on behalf of Libya. If," he emphasised.
He told the same press conference that Wednesday`s chaotic stampede of rebel forces back from a number of villages they had seized in recent days came after they were confronted by a force of thousands of Chadian Republican Guards.
"We found that the best response was a tactical retreat until we can develop a better strategy for confronting this force," he said, saying it numbered between 3,200 and 3,600 heavily armed troops.
He claimed to have "three sources" for the presence of the foreign troops but did not give further details about where the information came from.
"The dictator and his military and mercenaries will not make it to Benghazi," he said, referring to forces loyal to Gaddafi, whose 42-year rule is being challenged by the weeks-old insurgency.
On Tuesday, top NATO commander and US Admiral James Stavridis said the alliance was trying to gain a clearer picture of the rebels who had advanced with the help of Western-led coalition air strikes.
"We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hezbollah. We`ve seen different things," he said, referring to Osama bin Laden`s global jihadist network and Lebanon`s Shi’ite Muslim militia.
"At this point, I don`t have detail sufficient to say that there`s a significant al Qaeda presence or any other terrorist presence in and among" (rebel forces), Stavridis said.
Al Qaeda militant Abu Yahya al-Libi, himself a Libyan whose whereabouts are unknown, has urged on the rebellion against Gaddafi, and al Qaeda in North Africa has vowed to do everything in its power to help.