Eye On ISIS in Libya Weekly Update: August 1st

On 29 July, the Sabratha municipal council mobilized a new security force called the ‘anti-Islamic State (IS) Operation Room’ after agreement for the move was reached with local tribes last week. The force is intended to police the areas around Sabratha and Mellitah, and the council appointed Col. Omar Abdul Jalil from Sabratha as head of the new force. Tensions between the new force and the notorious local ‘Ammo’ militia led to a brief closure of the coastal road around Mellitah. In consequence, the ‘Ammo’ militia, which is led by Ahmed Dabbashi and reportedly runs the migrant smuggling networks across this region, withdrew from some of its current positions to around 20 km west of Sabratha.

The anti-IS force announcement comes in a broader context of Sabratha municipal council’s recent efforts to empower local governance and strengthen rule of law from the bottom up. On the same day, Sabratha municipal council successfully launched the debut meeting of its ‘association of municipalities’. The association includes 45 local councils and aims to give local governments more weight in policy, security, and service delivery.

Local tensions in Sirte between residents and Government of National Accord (GNA)-affiliated, Misratan-led al-Bunyan al- Marsus (BM) forces continue for fear of a Libyan National Army (LNA) incursion into the city. BM forces raised the anti-IS alert level last week and on 26 July, they claimed to have detected more IS movements on al-Load agricultural project on the road between Sirte and Jufra. On 27 July, unidentified aircraft launched two airstrikes targeting IS positions on the road, according to local sources.

Other Jihadi Actors

On 26 July, Libyan National Army (LNA) Special Operations forces posted pictures of a captured Ansar al-Sharia senior leader, Ibrahim Abu Nawwara. Although Nawwara was reportedly captured in western Libya near Khoms, local sources say that Khoms and Misratan forces affiliated with anti-IS salafis facilitated his handover to Benghazi as part of the ongoing political rapprochement between Misrata and the LNA.

Meanwhile in Benghazi, LNA forces continue to fight with jihadis in the final block of flats in al-Khribish district in the city centre–despite the city being declared ‘liberated’ by the LNA in early July. LNA fighters reported that the remaining jihadist fighters were observed to be wearing explosive vests. The conflict areas remain littered with sewage, landmines, IEDs, and booby traps. On 28 July, a mother and her 2 daughters were injured when a landmine exploded in the Busnaib area of Benghazi.

On 22 and 23 July, the Libyan National Army (LNA) conducted airstrikes against Derna Muhajadeen Shura Council (DMSC) positions near Derna. In retaliation on 29 July, the DMSC shot down an LNA MiG-23 fighter jet seizing both the pilot and the co-pilot prisoner when they parachuted into al- Dahr al-Hamar area. The DMSC announced that one of the pilots, Adel Jehani, had died from his injuries, while the LNA and many other local sources claim that the pilot was actually executed by the DMSC (allegedly by Muath al-Tashani).

In response, Brigadier Salem al-Rifadi, Commander of the LNA’s Omar al-Mukhtar operation room, announced a return to full blown siege, and shut down all routes into Derna—preventing food, medicine or fuel from entering the city. On 30 July, the DMSC attempted to break the blockade but failed, allowing the LNA to reclaim the Kassarat area east of Derna. The DMSC offensive started at dawn with the DMSC militants attacking three LNA positions – al-Kassarat, Madrassat al- Ardam, and Hajjaj al-Hila – around the town. Five LNA fighters were killed and 4 were injured in the battle, while the DMSC said it lost one fighter, Feras al-Zinni, who is alleged to have been a member of Ansar al-Sharia.

The latest escalation is estimated to be the result of a tightening military and social noose around the DMSC. Local sources allege that the DMSC has already ‘forgiven’ many IS captives it had in its custody and have gone as far as to recruit them into the DMSC ranks.

On 26 July, the LNA counter terrorism forces positioned in Karsah beach, west of Derna, arrested former IS member, Anis Abdul Qader al-Sharkasi, as he was attempting to leave the city with his parents. Sharkasi, who lives in Wadi al-Naga area in Derna, was a former aide to Sofian Ben Qumu, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Derna who supposedly fled the city some time ago.

A weekly update of ISIS’s actions, the Western response, and developments pertaining to Libya’s other militias is available by subscribing here. To read about Western countries’ responses to ISIS in Libya this week, click here, and to read about the developments within the anti-ISIS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here. To read all four sections of this week’s Eye on ISIS in Libya report, click here.

Eye-on-Isis-Logo-001