An unidentified target burns in the background as a Libyan rebel fighting forces loyal to leader Moamer Kadhafi smokes a cigarette outside the eastern oil town of Brega, the frontline in a war in which neither side has been able to make any significant advances for days. -AFP Photo

WASHINGTON: It is highly unlikely that Al-Qaeda would manage to “hijack” the uprising in Libya against Moamer Kadhafi's rule, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

With US lawmakers voicing worries about the potential influence of militants among opposition forces in Libya, Gates played down the threat posed by Al-Qaeda's affiliate in the region, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“I think that the future government of Libya is going to be worked out among the principal tribes,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee.

“So I think that for some outside group or some element of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to be able to hijack this thing at this point looks very unlikely to me.”

Gates, however, said the United States was still trying to learn more about the rebel army, which he said was composed of a “disparate” array of groups with a range of agendas.

He spoke two days after NATO's top commander, Admiral James Stavridis, said intelligence reports showed “flickers” of possible Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah influence among the opposition ranks.

A spokesman for the Libyan rebels on Wednesday dismissed the allegations.

Al-Qaeda militant Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan whose whereabouts are unknown, has urged on the rebellion against Kadhafi, and Al-Qaeda in North Africa has vowed to do everything in its power to help.

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