While the security situation continues to worsen in Libya, over the past few months, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) has been taking advantage of the lack of state control by building local communal ties, which is strengthening its ability to operate in more locations than Benghazi. Although Benghazans protested against ASL in response to the consulate attack, which led many in the media, commentariat, and government to believe it had been outright discredited, contrary to this narrative that formed that ASL was marginalized and kicked out of the city, in fact, it is thriving and expanding.
Following the September 11 attack, many Libyans, especially in Benghazi, were embarrassed that the operation on the consulate that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans occurred. Many believed Stevens was doing a great job and helping out the local community. As such, citizens went into the streets to repudiate these actions and called for stripping weapons from militias. They also stormed ASL’s base. While this might have been a short-term set back, ASL has since been able to alter perceptions of its intentions even if it has not fundamentally changed its ideology.
Unlike Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST), which has been a national movement from its inception, ASL originally only organized and operated in Benghazi. ASL first announced itself in February 2012. The group is led by Muhammad al-Zahawi, who had previously been an inmate of former President Muammar al-Qaddafi’s infamous Abu Salim prison. In recent months, though, ASL has been able to expand its scope beyond Benghazi through its dawa (missionary work), coordination with local leaders and businesses, and programs that are beneficial locally.
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