Washington (CNN) – Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Friday seemed to suggest Libya's developing government, which is set to succeed the fallen regime of Moammar Gadhafi, contains elements of the terrorist groups al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The comments came during a media availability in Orlando, where Cain sought to clarify his bungled response Monday on whether he agreed or disagreed with President Barack Obama's handling of the situation in Libya during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"What they didn't show was I asked the reporter to be more specific. The question was do you agree or disagree with the president on Libya? What part?" Cain said Friday.
"Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that Gadhafi should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you've got Taliban and al Qaeda that's going to be a part of the government?" the former businessman continued.
After his remarks, a Cain spokesperson told CNN the candidate was expressing uncertainty over the makeup of the new Libyan government. The spokesperson also pointed to a Reuters article Thursday that discussed Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a military leader in the National Transitional Council and former Taliban ally. The National Transitional Council is Libya's interim government.
U.S. counterterrorism officials have never indicated any concern about a Taliban presence in Libya.
However, Noman Benotman, a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an anti-Gadhafi opposition group and one time ally of Osama bin Laden, told CNN in October that "if there is a power vacuum in Libya, there will be an open market for al Qaeda."
Benotman currently works for the Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank based in London and Islamabad, Pakistan.
Although extremists haven't played a major role in Libya's liberation, a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak with attribution, told CNN last month: "It remains to be seen how much influence [al Qaeda] will have in the new Libya, but some will undoubtedly try to make their presence felt."
Since the beginning of Libya's liberation movement last spring, U.S. officials have said there were only a small number of extremists among the rebels. As one official put it, there was a "sprinkling of extremists to perhaps include al Qaeda" among the opposition forces.
– CNN's Pam Benson and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.