On 22 September, the US conducted an airstrike on an IS camp in the desert valleys about 150 miles south-east of Sirte, reportedly killing 17 ISIS fighters and destroying 3 vehicles. US Africa Command (Africom) said the strikes were carried out by armed Reaper drones flying from a base in Sicily. Reda Eissa, a spokesman for the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Misrata-led al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) coalition said he had no information about the airstrikes. Interestingly, the Libyan National Army (LNA) also said that it conducted airstrikes against IS targets near Sadada, west of Sirte, on the same day.
Africom officials said that IS used the camp to move fighters in and out of the country, stockpile weapons and equipment, and plot and conduct attacks, adding that, “IS and al-Qaida have taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring and directing terror attacks.” Africom also praised the GNA and their aligned forces for being valued partners against terrorism. This is the first US airstrike against IS under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Last week, the IS branch in eastern Libya, known as Wilayat Barqa, published its first video since the beginning of the year entitled ‘But They Never Lost Assurance Due To What Afflicted Them’. The long video covers the IS suicide car bomb attack in Nawfaliyah on 31 August and the Fugha checkpoint massacres in southern Libya on 23 August, as well as patrols east of Sirte and camps in the desert.
The video revealed that Ramadan Muhammed al-Rabeeie, whose nom du guerre is Abu Faraj al-Ansari, was the suicide bomber responsible for the Nawfaliyah attack in which 4 people died. He was reportedly born in 1984 and was a resident of Ras Abeida in Benghazi with five other brothers. He was imprisoned during the Qadhafi regime for connections to al-Qaida. He was a senior leader in Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and allegedly commanded a specialist assassination and bomb squad. He joined IS in 2014. Al-Ansari had managed to escape from Sabri area of Benghazi in January 2017, but it appears that he has now perished in the suicide car bomb.
On 17 September, the Libyan National Army (LNA) broadcast televised ‘confessions’ of Ibrahim Muftah Abu Nuwwara, an imprisoned Ansar al-Sharia fighter from Ajdabiya who is in LNA custody. Nuwwara ‘confessed’ that a spate of assassination and kidnapping operations conducted in Ajdabiya were on his orders as well as the orders of al-Saadi al-Nawfali, a senior commander of the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), al-Kilani Abu Nuwwara, Usama Jadhran, and Khalid Ibsis al-Fakhiri.
In the confession, Nuwwara added that logistical and material support came from Benghazi via Yousef al-Faidi. He said al-Faidi is a key military commander in Ansar al-Sharia and was one of the main operatives conducting assassination and abduction operations in the east since the end of 2011 and it was he who used to deem any rivals as “infidels”. Al-Faidi was reported to have died in July 2015, but it appears he may still be alive with the BDB.
Nuwwara was captured in a sting operation in Khoms in March 2017 and thereafter transferred back to Ajdabiya. He allegedly also participated in the BDB attacks against the LNA in 2016. Prior to that, he and his three brothers had reportedly set up the Ajdabiya Ansar al-Sharia branch in March 2015 to support the establishment of the BDB and their mission to Benghazi via the Oil Crescent. His brother al-Kilani Abu Nuwwara, aka Abu Layth al-Ansari, was a unit commander in the BDB and was killed in a LNA airstrike in Jufra on 9 November 2016. His second brother Ahmed Abu Nuwwara was killed in another LNA airstrike in Ajdabiya on 24 November 2016. The last brother, Shahaat Abu Nuwwara, who reportedly led an Ansar al-Sharia cell in the town of Sultan, was killed in clashes with the LNA on 10 July 2017.
This ‘confession’ sparked intense anger and social rifts in Ajdabiya last week, leading to gunmen burning houses belonging to the Jadhran and Abu Nawwara families in retaliation for their alleged involvement in the assassinations. These developments have triggered deep rifts in the local area and forced members of the Maghraba tribe, to which these families belong, to condemn the acts.
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.