IS in Action

The re-emergence of Islamic State (IS) cells in central and southern Libya last month has led both the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) al-Bunyan al-Marsus to deploy large forces to the region. The LNA, which currently controls most Oil Crescent territory, mobilised units from its two strongest divisions – the Special Forces (Saiqa) and the Armoured Zawiyya Martyrs Brigade, led by general Jamal Zahawi, to locations in Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf, and near Nawfaliyah as well as in the desert areas south and south-east of Sirte.

On 10 September, the commander of the LNA’s Sirte Operation Room declared that the entire coastal strip from Sidra to about 50km east of Sirte, which includes the towns of Nawfaliyah and Harawa, is all under the control of the LNA. On 8 September, the LNA reportedly defused a bomb attached to the main gas pipeline south of Ajdabiya, although it is not clear who planted the bomb or how it was discovered. BM forces are positioned at the 30km checkpoint east of Sirte, and it is reported that BM arrested two people in a raid last week, fueling tensions with the local population.

Other Jihadi Actors

The Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) – a jihadist coalition which controls Derna – is experiencing significant local backlash after the alleged abduction, torture and killing of Munsef Krikish, a pro-LNA Salafist resident of Derna on 4 September. According to a statement published by the DMSC, on 1 September Krikish was seized for questioning and died after the interrogation. However, his body showed possible signs of torture which has fueled anger within anti- DMSC circles in Derna.

Prolonged power outages, poor economic conditions, as well as from growing rifts between (nominally) pro Government of National Accord (GNA) factions and anti-Libyan National Army (LNA) factions affiliated with Islamists have fueled tension in Tripoli and Misrata. On 11 September, a key figurehead of the hardliner Islamist faction, Sheikh Abdul Razzag Emshirib, was reportedly detained by Tripoli’s GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force (Rada).


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.

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IS in Action

IS media claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a Libyan National Army (LNA) checkpoint at the entrance of al-Nawfaliya town, on 31 August. The attack 100 km east of Sirte, left four dead and eight others injured. It was reported that ISIS units moved in to al-Teysseen, a town 90 kms east of Sirte, on 1 September. They allegedly held an Eid prayer in the local mosque and took positions in the town. According to local sources, three ‘Madkhali’ Salafists (loyal to Haftar’s LNA) were abducted by IS around this time.

The LNA air force launched a series of airstrikes from Ras Lanuf airstrip on 2 September, which targeted IS positions in the area of Ain Taqrift, between Sirte and Zillah. As a result, the IS units reportedly withdrew southwest towards the desert valleys. LNA ground forces are purportedly moving westwards towards Sirte to Um al-Qandil– IS elements and locals were reported in that area on 3 September.

Meanwhile the predominantly Misratan, GNA-aligned al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces that oppose the LNA, are positioned in the areas around Gate 17, east of Sirte. They continue to scour the areas south and south-west of Sirte for IS elements. The LNA sent a substantial amount of troops to fortify various positions in the Oil Crescent throughout the last week, including the Shuhada al-Zawiya armoured brigade, led by General Jamal Zahawi from Benghazi.

Other Jihadi Actors

A senior member of the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), Ahmed Bakir (aka al-Nahla), who is allegedly involved in supporting extremist groups by supplying them with foreign mercenaries and cooperating with IS, was detained by the Misrata Counter Terrorism Unit (CT).

The CT unit also released a ‘confessions’ video of senior Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) member from Benghazi, Mohammed al-Khafifi, admitting membership in IS and claiming that his group had cooperated with the BDB in a number of suicide attacks since their evacuation from Benghazi earlier this summer.

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.

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ISIS in Action 

On 23 August, Islamic State (IS) fighters attacked the Libyan National Army (LNA)-controlled al-Fugaha checkpoint in Jufra around 400km south of Sirte. LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said that eleven people were beheaded – two civilians and nine LNA fighters, including the commander of the battalion. On 24 August, the IS’s Amaq news agency released a statement claiming responsibility for the incident and announcing that 21 members of “Haftar’s militias” had been killed or injured. The same day two more LNA fighters were abducted north of Jufra.

This marks the second officially claimed ISIS attack since the GNA-aligned al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces defeated ISIS in Sirte in December 2016. The first attack was on 7 May when ISIS cells attacked and killed members of a Misratan Third Force convoy.

On 27 August, Amaq released its first video in Libya in almost half a year which showed several IS fighters guarding a checkpoint on the road between Jufra and Abu Grein, south of Sirte. The video also showed two men who were abducted on 24 August. They were identified as al-Sghaier Mohammed al-Majry, the deputy head of the High Commission for Elections, and LNA-affiliated fighter Mohammed Abu Bakr Mohammed, a member of the Asad al-Sahraa battalion which is part of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) unit in the Awbari region.

After this latest attack, the LNA said it was deploying additional reinforcements from the 210 infantry brigade to the region south of Sirte to secure oil ports and installations while the al-Bunyan al-Marsus operations room announced it was sending Misratan reinforcements

Other Jihadi Actors

Last week, Usama Jadhran was arrested in Misrata as he attempted to depart the city en route to Istanbul. Usama is the brother of notorious Oil Crescent warlord Ibrahim Jadhran. He was arrested by local Misratan security authorities for his alleged membership in Ansar al-Sharia and the Ajdabiya Mujahedeen Shura Council, as well as his suspected links to IS.

On 27 August, Fayez al-Serraj held a joint press conference in Sudan with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir. The two leaders agreed to cooperate on security issues with a particular emphasis on fighting terrorism as it is a major hindrance to stability in Libya. The two discussed the latest developments in Libya in terms of politics, governance, the economy, and security. Bashir lamented the spill over effect of Libyan security issues in his country, “which have made it expensive for us to fight human trafficking, illegal immigration, and cross-border crimes,” adding that criminal and terrorist networks thrive in Libya’s un-governed spaces. This discussion touched upon ways to coordinate and secure common borders to prevent malevolent non-state actors from crossing freely between the countries.

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.

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Other Jihadi Actors

The conflict between Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) heated up last month after the DMSC shot down an LNA jet over Derna and allegedly killed and mutilated its pilot Adel Jehani, triggering a tightening of the LNA siege on the city. The LNA’s Omar al-Mukhtar operations room has enforced a limited blockade on the city since the DMSC evicted ISIS fighters from the Fatayeh district more than a year ago, but basic goods and medical supplies were previously allowed in.

Local sources report that the LNA’s Saiqa Special Forces have reportedly moved forward to join the LNA in preparation for a major assault on Derna in conjunction with an internal uprising, targeting key DMSC leaders, and military targets. It is reported the Saiqa commander, Wanis Bukhamda stated that his attention is now focused on taking Derna. The LNA imposed siege on the city has provoked wide spread condemnation as it prevents much needed supplies of fuel, water, and other amenities from entering the city. Derna’s local council and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, expressed concerns of a looming humanitarian crisis in the city. On August 7, the GNA’s Presidential Council issued a statement calling for “all relevant parties” to push for an end to the siege, and to put a stop to the “severe suffering” of the residents.

The siege was rebuked by Mohammed al-Ammari, an Islamist-affiliated member of the GNA as well as members from Derna in the High Council of State because it punishes all residents of Derna, regardless of whether they are civilians or members of DMSC.

ISIS in Action

Last week media sources reported that Italian authorities suspect that IS and other jihadi networks in Libya are working with the Italian Mafia and illegal fuel smuggling operations. According to La Republica, the police had found substantial amounts of Libyan and Syrian crude that “shouldn’t have been there” and were greater than some local refineries’ inventories. Despite a lack of concrete evidence of connection between the mafia and extremist groups, rumors circulate about cooperation in the illicit economy via fuel and drug smuggling in the Sahara Desert.

GNA-aligned al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces continue to conduct anti-ISIS reconnaissance missions in Abu Hadi area, south of Sirte. The looting of power cables and other infrastructure continues too as criminal networks take advantage of the conflict in the city.

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.

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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.

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Misratan-led Bunyan Marsus (BM) forces have raised the level of security readiness in Sirte in response to increased security threats. There are reports that on 22 July, BM forces sent 20 vehicles to Sabaa and established checkpoints at the west and east of the city in anticipation of an impending Islamic State (IS) attack on Sirte from the south and the east. On 23 July, the spokesperson for the GNA’s forces, Brigadier Mohammed al-Ghosri, denied rumors that BM requested military support from the LNA in the fight against IS. Ghosri, who was recently rumored to have resigned from his position, posited that the LNA’s position in Jufra may actually facilitate the presence and movement of IS south of Sirte.

The bodies of hundreds of foreign militants who were killed in the final battle against IS in Sirte earlier this year, are being stored in freezers in Misrata. A Misratan-organized crime division has worked to collect DNA samples, preserve, document and to photograph the bodies before they are moved out of Libya. The Prosecutor General is negotiating the sensitive issue of repatriation arrangements with the fighters’ countries of origin.

A new video featuring the notorious LNA Saiqa Special Forces senior commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, directing the execution of prisoners of war was released on 23 July. Earlier this year Haftar rejected Werfalli’s resignation from Saiqa following widespread condemnation of the cruel behavior he exhibited in earlier videos. In the most recent edition, al-Werfalli is shown reading out charges as 18 prisoners dressed in orange jump suits are shot in the back of the head at point-blank range by militia men. The video release follows a renewed call by the UN to the LNA to investigate the summary executions of prisoners, prompted by concerns over human rights abuses. The prisoners of war are believed to belong to IS, and the video is captured with a similar style of choreography to the infamous IS execution videos.

 

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.

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Battles continue in the final area (Khribish) in Sabri district of Benghazi, where a number of fighters and families are now still believed to be holding out, despite General Haftar’s announcement of official victory in Benghazi on 5 July. 10 LNA fighters were killed last week according to pro-LNA media. This raises the number of reported fatalities on the LNA’s side up to almost 50 soldiers, with a larger number of injuries since the liberation proclamation. The surrounding area remains a sea of landmines, IEDs and booby traps, and 19 civilians were reported killed throughout last week by ordinance.

Although many in Benghazi are grateful for the defeat of ISIS, rampant corruption, neglect of urgent post-war needs, and the lack of financial resources fuel instability in Benghazi. Signs of local tensions and discontent are increasing and threaten, or at least challenge, Haftar’s control on stability and ability to keep ISIS and other extremists out of the city.

Other Jihadi Actors

Skirmishes between Pro-GNA and hardliner militias in Tripoli continued this week, ending as the GNA-aligned militias successfully ousted hardliner militias from their positions in eastern Tripoli. Libyan press and international media mistakenly reported that the hardline forces originated from Misrata, but in reality the militias were affiliated with extreme Islamist factions — including the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) and militias defeated in Tripoli last May. The Misratan municipal council and other political leaders denounced the operation and media coverage mistaking Misratan involvement.

Pro-GNA militias led by Haithem Tajouri reported the loss of 10 fighters in battles that lasted for three days. The Pro-GNA Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade Militia, in the guise of the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Central Security Department, now controls territory up to 40 km east of the capital, as well as a large part of Tripoli itself.

The low-intensity conflict between the LNA and the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) coalition that controls the city continued this week absent of any major changes. With the support of local communities, LNA units advanced their positions towards Derna from the West. LNA sources have disputed prolific media coverage of airstrikes and high-level military preparations by the LNA for a full scale assault of the city.

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.

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Other Jihadi Actors

On 5 July, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar declared that the Libyan National Army (LNA) had fully liberated Benghazi from the coalition of jihadists including the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) and the Islamic State (IS). However, skirmishes have continued to take place between the LNA and fleeing jihadists since the official liberation announcement. Door to door sweeps in the al-Sabri and Sidi Khribish areas are ongoing in an attempt to uncover landmines and IEDs planted by the jihadists, as well as to root out any remaining jihadists still hiding in the area.

Four LNA fighters died on 7 July as they tried to seize buildings where jihadists were hiding in Sidi Khribish. On 9 July, Colonel Miloud Zwei, a spokesman for the LNA, said that fighting continued in the district of Souq al-Jarid, located between Souq al-Hout and al-Sabri. Zwei said 20 LNA soldiers had been killed by jihadists since 5 July, while 3 others were killed on 9 July in mine blasts as they carried out search operations. He added that LNA forces had killed several jihadists and arrested 17 since victory was declared. On 10 July, a suicide bomber blew himself up as he tried to escape from Benghazi’s Salmani district, injuring LNA fighters.

On 9 July, the Higher Committee of Fatwa (HCF) which belongs to the House of Representatives’ (HoR) parallel government in eastern Libya, issued a takfiri fatwa declaring that followers of Ibadism, an Islamic doctrine dominant in Oman but also followed by Amazigh communities in the Nafusa mountains as well as in areas of Tunisia and Algeria, are infidels. The fatwa has been widely criticized by most Libyans in western Libya, including politicians, human rights organizations, and activists.

The National Commission for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRIL) denounced the takfiri fatwa, saying in a statement that such fatwas undermine the national security and social peace. In response to the HCF fatwa, the Tripoli-based Fatwa House reposted a fatwa it made in 2015 regarding Ibadism which called for coexistence between the Sunnis and Ibadis. On 10 July, the Amazigh Supreme Council responded with a statement declaring its absolute rejection of the HCF’s fatwa. The statement said the accusation that Ibadhi Muslims are kafir or deviants is tantamount to an incitement to genocide of the Amazigh people in Libya, a violation of international treaties, and threatens the social peace in Libya and the wider region.

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.

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ISIS in Action

On 28 June, two ISIS captives being held in Misrata, one Libyan and the other Egyptian, were said to have escaped from a prison belonging to the military intelligence agency in al-Kharrouba area in Misrata. The reports have not been independently verified and could be misinformation designed to muddy Misrata’s reputation. Sources in Misrata deny that any ISIS prisoners have escaped.

The Egyptian national is said to be Asharf Muhsen Ali, an explosives expert who was in Derna before departing the city on 19 April 2016. He was taken prisoner during the battle between the Misratan al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces and ISIS in Sirte last year.

The Libyan national is said to be Emrajaa Mabruk al-Ghaithi, a young man from Derna. He reportedly became a member of the Omar al-Mukhtar Brigade in 2011 under the leadership of Zeyad Balaam, who was until very recently a commander of one of the units affiliated with the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB). Al-Ghaithi later joined Ibrahim Jadhran and in 2014 pledged loyalty to ISIS and joined their ranks in Benghazi.

On 28 June, the LNA found the remains of three of its iconic fighters in Street 10 in Sabri including LNA officer Suliman al-Houthi, who became famous following a video that showed his execution at the hands of ISIS fighters in Sabri. Suliman’s words to his killers on video ‘End it with Honour’ became popular and helped increase local support for the LNA. Notably, the man who killed him was captured by the LNA earlier this year.

Other Jihadi Actors

Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has taken full control of the Souq al-Hout area in central Benghazi and the Benghazi local council have started clean-up operations in the surrounding area. The remaining jihadists are now boxed into a 2 square kilometre area in Sabri, prompting the LNA to end all airstrikes nearby. Fierce battles have raged in Sabri over the last few days, with more than 25 LNA fighters killed. On 2 July, sources within the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) announced four of its members were killed during the fighting, including the administrators of social media pages, with many more injured. The LNA is expected to declare victory soon.

Islamist-affiliated, anti-Government of National Accord (GNA) factions, who were evicted from the capital in May by pro-GNA militias, are organising themselves for a demonstration against the GNA on 7 July in Tripoli. Local sources also report ongoing preparations by both hardliners and pro-GNA militias in Tripoli for a new battle for control of the capital. Some of these hardliner Islamist groups have reportedly started to call for the formation of a ‘Tripoli Revolutionary Shura Council’, in the same vein as Shura Councils in Benghazi and Derna.

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.

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