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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ISIS in Action

On 24 June, forces belonging to the GNA-aligned, Misrata-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces reportedly captured an ISIS fighter, while another fighter escaped, during a BM operation to retrieve hijacked fuel trucks in Wadi Bay, south of Sirte.

On 20 June, a lone-wolf attacker, allegedly either a Sudanese or Chadian national potentially tied to ISIS (though the group hasn’t taken any official credit for the attempt), detonated a suicide vest at the Sidra gate checkpoint held by Libyan National Army (LNA) fighters. He killed himself and injured another. Heavy artillery including 17 tank shells and an anti-air rocket were later discovered rigged to his vehicle, leading some to believe that the attacker’s initial target may have been the oil facilities rather than LNA fighters.

Last week, the Anas Dabbashi brigade – the formidable local militia guarding Mellitah complex historically aligned with Islamist-affiliated hardliner faction – as well as other local security and municipal sources in Sabratha, warned of the rising terrorist threat posed by Islamic State (IS) affiliates and other extremists in the region, thought to be located in areas south of Sabratha.

Other Jihadi Actors

On 23 June, the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB), an Islamist and Misratan aligned force which attacked the Oil Crescent ports in March, announced it will dissolve itself and that some members will enlist in the formation of a legitimate Libyan army. The group cited a desire to save Libya from further bloodshed and foreign involvement in Libya as justification for their disbanding. In actuality, the BDB disbanded itself so as to best cope with its wholesale defeat by Haftar’s forces in Jufra over the past weeks. The BDB was the only Libyan entity (as opposed to individuals) implicated by Gulf countries for terror links to Qatar as part of the regional diplomatic embargo against the country. According to high ranking members, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood is also set to be dissolved.

Throughout last week the Libyan National Army (LNA) continued its pressurized advances in Benghazi, fully claiming control over the Souq al-Hout area and the main central square, leaving only Sabri under the control of the jihadists. The final battle between the LNA and the remaining jihadist fighters is being fought on a house-to-house basis within a 9km square zone of the Sabri area. The LNA announced that more than 3,800 mines and IEDs were defused in Sabri and Souq al-Hout areas throughout last week.

Local sources report ongoing preparations by both hardliners and pro-GNA militias in Tripoli for a new military offensive to retake control of the capital, taking advantage of the regional Qatar embargo and the national reshuffling of alliances on the other. The Grand Mufti, the spiritual figurehead for many of the hard-liner Islamist factions, has again called on revolutionaries to reassemble and save the ‘dying’ revolution. On 21 June, the control tower of Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport’s control tower was attacked by unspecified group overnight, causing a flight to be diverted to Misrata. Sources disagree on whether the attack was spurred by local militias or if its intent was to detain people arriving on these flights in Misrata.  The same day, Munir Mohammed Abu Zeid, a hardliner loyalist affiliated with the General National Congress’ (GNC) former National Salvation Government and leader of the ‘Shield Rahba Camp’ in Tajoura, was assassinated in Tripoli’s Zawiyya Dahmani area.

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 6 June, the Libyan National Army (LNA) affiliated 116 Brigade said it had apprehended a jihadist cell, composed of fighters who fled from Benghazi, during an anti-terrorism raid in Sebha. The 166 Brigade, which is led by Masud al-Jeddi, claimed that one of those arrested, Masoud al-Tarhouni aka Abu Uwais al-Libi, was an IS member and resident of the Salmani area in Benghazi. On 10 June, one of the four IS members said to have been killed on 26 May by local security forces from Bani Walid was identified as Derna resident Abdul Moeed Jaber al-Kawwash, aka Nimir al-Dernawi. Al-Kawwash, who is reportedly only 17 years old, travelled to fight in Syria in 2013 before returning to Derna in 2014 after injury.

On 7 June, the Misrata Municipal Council issued a statement banning the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) from re-entering Misrata city with their weapons and demanding that the BDB hand over individuals implicated in terrorism to state authorities. On 6 June, leaders of the GNA-aligned, Misratan-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus Operations Room, the Misrata Military Council, and the Municipal Council joined forces to order BDB units positioned at the Baghla junction, located on the road south of Abu Grein, to disband, surrender their weapons and handover their leader, Mustafa al-Sharksi.  On 9 June, another video was released depicting Captain Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a hardliner Salafist commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Special Forces (Saiqa), ordering the execution of four prisoners.

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. To read the Eye on ISIS in Libya Team’s blog post about the actions of other jihadi actors, click here. And to read their explanation of the developments within the anti-ISIS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here.

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ISIS in Action and Other Jihadi Actors

According to local sources, on 24 May militias clashed with ISIS fighters near Bani Walid. Four ISIS fighters were killed. ISIS fighters are still active in the area after dispersing into the desert south-west of Sirte following their defeat at the hands of the Misratan-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces last year. Locals report that these ISIS cells are surviving by raiding trucks and ambushing travellers in this area. They reportedly have encampments in locations near Abu Grien, Jufra and al-Shuwerif. Three weeks ago, ISIS fighters killed two members of the large Misratan 13th Battalion (formerly Third Force) and injured three in an ambush between Jufra and Sirte.

In Tripoli, the Government of National Accord (GNA) – aligned RADA Special Forces arrested the brother and father of Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi. RADA said that Hashem Abedi, the 20-year-old brother of the alleged bomber, had been under observation for over a month and issued a statement saying that Hashem had confessed that both he and his brother Salman were members of ISIS.  Hasham allegedly also admitted that he had known the details of the Manchester bombing and had been planning to assassinate the UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler. Ramadan Abedi, the father, who is alleged to have been a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was also seized.

On 26 May, Egypt conducted six airstrikes against targets in Derna, supposedly in retaliation for the massacre of 28 Coptic Christians in Egypt’s Minya province the same day. The attack was claimed by ISIS. Further airstrikes were launched on 29 May. Targets included the city’s power station and the electricity distribution network. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the air strikes in Derna had targeted fighters responsible for plotting the Minya attack, and that Egypt would not hesitate to carry out additional strikes inside and outside the country. However, Derna is controlled by the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) which fought against ISIS. ISIS was driven out of Derna two years ago.

On 28 May, the spokesperson for Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) Colonel Ahmed Mesmari said that the LNA was coordinating with Egypt’s military over the air strikes. The Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) praised the Egyptian airstrikes on Derna, while the Government of National Accord (GNA) condemned them as a gross violation of Libya’ sovereignty. During a press conference in Cairo on 29 May, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said jihadist training camps in Libya were a huge threat to Egypt and that Egypt had targeted the bases of these organizations in full coordination with the LNA. The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was also at the press conference.

On 27 May, Ansar al-Sharia (AS) officially announced that it had disbanded itself. AS’s leadership and fighting force has been weakened over the last three years through its fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA). The disbanding statement is significant because it may undermine the ideological conviction of fighters still allied with AS under the umbrella of the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC). The final remnants of AS, along with the BRSC and ISIS, are besieged in their last two Benghazi enclaves of Sabri and Souq al-Hout. Interestingly, pro-ISIS media accounts celebrated AS’s disbanding as ‘inevitable’ and criticized the group for failing to unify its loyalties under the ISIS banner.

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. To read their explanation of the developments within the anti-ISIS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here.

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