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Heretics, Pawns, and Traitors: Anti-Madkhali Propaganda on Libyan Salafi-Jihadi Telegram

By Nathan Vest

On January 23, 2019, a Libyan salafi-jihadi Telegram channel posted a photo of a Libyan National Army (LNA) fighter reportedly killed in the eastern city of Derna.i The Telegram channel claimed that the deceased fighter belonged to a movement of salafis, colloquially known as Madkhalis after their spiritual leader—Saudi cleric Rabiՙa al-Madkhali. The Madkhali fighter is just one of the many killed in a sub-conflict within Libya’s civil war, pitting salafi-jihadis against traditionalist salafis, who are sometimes described as “quietest” for their avoidance of conflict with the state.1

Since 2014, both sides have experienced waxing and waning fortunes; however, following victories in Benghazi, Sirte, and Derna, the Madkhalis are the ascendant faction. Subsequently, Libya’s salafi-jihadis are attempting to regroup and reverse Madkhali gains, and their efforts will largely depend on their ability to restore their diminished popular support. In line with these efforts, Libyan salafi-jihadis have taken to social media, particularly the messaging platform Telegram, to gain ideological and national legitimacy over the Madkhalis by portraying their traditionalist rivals as un-Islamic agents of foreign interests and traitors to Libya’s 17 February Revolution.

Salafi-jihadis and traditionalist Madkhalis may share ultra-conservative views, such as strictly applying Shariՙa law in everyday life, morally policing the public sphere, and returning Islam to its purist form, during and immediately following the life of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed. However, salafi-jihadis and traditionalists salafis diverge on the medium through which they pursue their socio-religious objectives. Whereas salafi-jihadis, as their title suggests, condone waging violent jihad against despotic regimes and their foreign backers, traditionalist salafis espouse the tenet of wali al-amr, or loyalty to the communal leader or head of state. While salafi-jihadis are quick to pronounce fellow Muslims as unbelievers and use violence to overthrow what they see as corrupt, despotic systems, traditionalist salafis abhor fitna, or intra-communal chaos and violence. Therefore, they refuse to disavow regimes and instead work through them to propagate their salafi ideologies. As such, regimes, including the Gaddafi regime and the Sisi regime in Egypt, often work by, with, and through traditionalist salafi movements. In doing so, they attempt to avert the argument that the regimes are anti-Islamic while simultaneously undermining the potential threat of salafi-jihadis to the system, via co-optation of their traditionalist rivals. Salafi-jihadis, therefore, often view traditionalist salafis as pro-regime pawns and enemies of the true salafi cause.

As other researchers have discussed, Madkhalis have evoked wali al-amr and sided with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west and Khalifa Haftar’s LNA in the east to combat salafi-jihadi terrorist organizations, most notably the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Shariՙa in Libya (ASL). Since 2016, salafi-jihadi groups have suffered stinging defeats in the east, and Madkhali power is growing in the west as well. These major battlefield defeats and the Madkhalis’ rising socio-political influence have greatly shaped how Libyan salafi-jihadis discuss their traditionalist adversaries, predominantly in Telegram-based propaganda.

Depicting Madkhalis as un-Islamic and enemies of proper Islamic practices is among the most prominent themes in anti-Madkhali propaganda salafi-jihadis circulate via Telegram, constituting an ad hominem attack meant to emphasize the salafi-jihadis’ religious legitimacy. For instance, on October 5, 2018, one salafi-jihadi channel accused Madkhalis of coercively working through the GNA’s President, Fayez al-Sarraj, to replace “legitimate religious education in schools which teach the al-Maliki madhhab to make room for the Madkhalis to live in mosques and schools.”ii Another channel echoed this accusation of Madkhalis undermining “legitimate” religious education, claiming that an LNA-affiliated militia in Derna was preventing studies in the city’s schools on Thursdays, replacing the classes with Madkhali lessons.iii

Libyan salafi-jihadis’ allegations of Madkhalis’ un-Islamic machinations also extend beyond Libya’s schools and into its mosques. For instance, they have also accused Madkhalis of closing Derna’s Al-Sahaba mosque, preventing locals from praying at one of the city’s most prominent religious centers.iv Additionally, while Madkhalis allegedly prevent “true” Muslims from worshiping, Madkhalis themselves are unable to pray correctly, “not knowing whether to pray or look at the camera,” one salafi-jihadi channel chided.v At other times, anti-Madkhali rhetoric is far less subtle, accusing Madkhalis of striving to “submit the tribe of Islam to the crusaders,” or western powers.vi Ergo, true Libyan Muslims must rally behind their religion’s legitimate champions—the salafi-jihadis—to save the Libyan religious sphere from heretical Madkhali domination.

Similarly, due to the Saudi origin of the Madkhali movement and their affiliation with the LNA and GNA—both backed by various international actors—salafi-jihadi Telegram channels regularly accuse Madkhalis of being agents of foreign interests—namely those of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, and Libya’s former colonizer, Italy. For example, one salafi-jihadi channel affirmed that the “scope of the conspiracy which the war criminal Haftar and the Madkhalis lead in eastern Libya” is facilitated “by Emirati and Saudi support against the people of the Qur’an.”vii

The UAE, in particular, has been among Haftar’s most ardent international backers in his fight against Islamist and salafi-jihadi actors in eastern Libya. The Emiratis have reportedly provided Haftar’s LNA with arms and training, according to the UN Panel of Experts on Libya. The UAE is also allegedly expanding the Al-Khadem air field in eastern Libya from which it could base larger fighter jets, such as the F-16 or Mirage 2000, in addition to the AT-802 Air Tractors and Wing-Loong drones already housed there. Reportedly, the UAE has deployed the Air Tractors and drones, flown by mercenary pilots, to conduct sorties in eastern Libya, and salafi-jihadi Telegram channels regularly reported drones, likely belonging to the UAE, flying missions over Derna.viii

Libyan salafi-jihadi Telegram channels have also attempted to demonize their Madkhali rivals by associating them with their former Italian colonizers, who brutally ruled Libya from 1911 to 1947. In one such post, a salafi-jihadi channel posted a photo of alleged Madkhalis meeting with former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and suggested they provided religious sanction to Mussolini’s efforts to fight Omar al-Mukhtar, a revered anti-colonial figure among Libyans.ix The implication is that just as the Madkhalis supported fascist Italy against al-Mukhtar, so too do they support Italy over patriotic Libyans today.2 Another salafi-jihadi channel was even more broad brushed in its attack, accusing “crusaders, Jews, Russian atheists, and their agents” of “mobilizing Haftar and the tyrants stepping on [Libya’s] neck, who are supported by fatwas of the people of crimes, the Madkhalis.”x

Conversely, many Libyan salafi-jihadis posit themselves as “the free sons of Libya” or the “heroes of Benghazi, Derna . . . Ajdabiyya and Misrata”, starkly contrasting their steadfast devotion to the Libyan people with the “foreign agents headed by the ‘Frigate’ Government3 and Haftar.”xi While they portray both the GNA and Haftar as subservient to foreign actors, salafi-jihadis argue that they are the sole legitimate representatives of Libyan interests, for which they have fought since the 17 February Revolution.

However, despite their zeal, salafi-jihadis are reeling from their losses in the east. After more than three years of fighting, Haftar finally declared victory over the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC), an umbrella group comprising ASL in December 2017. Haftar did the same against the Mujahideen of Derna Shura Council (MDSC) in June 2018, although fighting continued in Derna’s old city until February 2019. A post from January 14, 2019 captured the salafi-jihadi view that the Madkhalis greatly benefited from the deterioration of their position, stating that “Madkhalis form the largest, most crucial actor in politics and daily life in the east.”xii Salafi-jihadi groups such as BRSC and MDSC attempted to cultivate a society guided by the groups’ salafi ideology. However, having been defeated by the LNA and its Madkhali elements, Libyan salafi-jihadis in the east see their rivals “forming their religious vision for society in line with external Saudi politics” and see their own image of an ideal Libyan society being upended.

Having long been suppressed by the Gaddafi regime, many salafi-jihadis in Libya saw the 17 February Revolution and the post-revolutionary space as a means of constructing a puritanical Muslim society. Following their participation in the armed uprising which ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, salafi-jihadis set about promoting their ideology through education, proselytization, and charity services, although assassinations, kidnappings, and other campaigns of violence also accompanied the salafis’ communal works. Indeed, violent acts of salafi groups such as ASL were part and parcel to Benghazi’s security deterioration, which catalyzed the outbreak of violence in Benghazi in 2014.

Nevertheless, having spent blood and treasure fighting against the Gaddafi regime, many Libyan salafi-jihadis view themselves as true standard bearers of the 17 February Revolution. Conversely, they view their Madkhali rivals as traitors to the revolutionary cause, as many Madkhalis either remained neutral or loyal to the Gaddafi regime until late into the revolution. As one salafi-jihadi channel rhetorically asked, “do you know why during the February Revolution the Libyan people stood with the heart of one man? Because the Madkhalis didn’t participate in the revolution. They stayed in their homes and didn’t have any influence at all.”xiii

However, to the consternation of Libya’s salafi-jihadis, Madkhalis are now deeply ingrained and influential. As mentioned above, Madkhalis are an increasingly powerful actor in eastern Libya, but they are also key players in the west as well. A Misratan Madkhali militia—the 604th Battalion—participated in some of the most intense fighting against IS in its former stronghold, Sirte. Additionally, Tripoli’s Special Deterrence Forces, or Rada, have become synonymous with the Madkhalis’ ascent in western Libya.

Since the 17 February Revolution and the dissolution of the Gaddafi regime’s security apparatus, militias such as Rada have filled the vacuum, stepping in as local security services. Rada’s leader, Abdulraouf Kara, is an adherent of the Madkhali ideology, and his militia has become Tripoli’s de facto police force, breaking up drug and kidnapping rings, securing Tripoli’s only functioning airport, and conducting counter-terrorism (CT) operations. However, in line with Madkhalis’ ultra-conservative religious and social views, Rada has also reportedly harassed and abused members of Tripoli’s LGBTQ community, as well as women walking in public without a male guardian. Additionally, Rada disrupted Tripoli’s comic book convention in November 2017 and detained its organizers for propagating un-Islamic practices and images. Rada is able to act in this manner with impunity, largely due to the militia’s role as a CT force and security guarantor in Tripoli, granting it substantial influence over the GNA. Indeed, following the September 2017 clashes between Tripolitan militias and armed groups from neighboring Misrata and Tarhouna, one Telegram channel stated that “the Madkhalis (Rada) are in one trench with the foreign agent ‘Frigate’ government.”xiv

Today, with the growing power of the Madkhalis, who support and work through two governments some Libyans perceive as illegitimate and subservient to counter-revolutionary forces in the region, salafi-jihadis consistently condemn the Madkhalis as being traitors to the 17 February Revolution. One channel bluntly claimed that “Madkhalis are enemies of the revolution and revolutionaries.”xv Another channel stated that, given their ties to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, their previous complicity with the Gaddafi regime, and their willingness to fight for Haftar, a military strongman, “Madkhalis are a refuge . . . for every tyrant of the human race.”xvi As such, Libyan salafi-jihadi channels have continued issuing a “general call to arms to young and old to wage jihad for the sake of God against injustice and tyranny”xvii and reverse the battlefield gains of Haftar, the LNA, and the Madkhalis.4 These battle calls reflect an concurrent salafi-jihadi campaign to bolster their ranks in the field, while simultaneously working to garner popular support by undermining the Madkhalis’ religious bona fides.

Nevertheless, Libya’s salafi-jihadis are currently on their back heels. They have suffered decisive blows in Benghazi, Derna, and Sirte, partially at the hands of Madkhali salafis, and as their Telegram-based propaganda reflects, salafi-jihadis largely blame turncoat Madkhalis and their foreign backers for their defeats. However, after almost five years of fighting, the Libyan conflict seems just as far away from resolution as it did in May 2014, and the country’s salafi-jihadis are down but far from out, maintaining a strong will to fight. They believe their jihad has been stolen by un-Islamic, foreign-backed traitors, and as Libya’s crisis endures, salafi-jihadis will continue to promulgate anti-Madkhali messaging in a concerted effort to cultivate religious and local legitimacy in order to undercut their Madkhali adversaries’ socio-political gains.

Nathan Vest is a research assistant and Middle East specialist at the RAND Corporation. Follow him on Twitter: @nkvest22

Author’s note: This paper is solely meant to convey and analyze what, how, and why Libyan salafi-jihadis talk about traditionalist Madkhali salafis in propaganda promulgated via salafi-jihadi Telegram channels. It is not meant to convey the author’s support for either of the two groups over the other. The author would also like to thank Jeffrey Martini and Jalel Harchaoui for their insight and guidance in support of this paper.

1 Researchers often refer to traditionalist or Madkhali salafis as “apolitical” or “quietist” salafis, in that they condemn political Islamist movements and quietly work under the auspices of the regime to pursue fundamentalist social objectives. Conversely, political Islamists and activist salafis engage in both political and military means to transform society. However, given that participation in armed conflict precludes quietist Salafism, it is the choice of the author to instead use the term “traditionalist Salafism”. Whereas salafi-jihadism is a nominally modern phenomenon, gaining prominence during 1970s and the Soviet-Afghan War, quietist or traditionalist Salafism date back to the teachings of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu, two the 19th century’s most prominent Islamic scholars.

2 While prominent traditionalist tenets such as irja’ and wali al-amr date back to the 7th century, the Madkhalis are a modern movement. Their spiritual leader, Rabi’a al-Madkhali did not rise to prominence until the 1980s and 1990s, when he became an outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia’s Sahwa movement, political Islamist movements calling for reform and threatening to ignite fitna in the Kingdom. However, the term irja’¸ as used in this Telegram post, refers to a longstanding traditionalist tenet of postponing or putting off contentious issues which might instigate fitna. Additionally, while this salafi-jihadi channel uses the term kharaji, or extremist, ironically, he is employs it as an added layer of condemnation, suggesting that Madkhalis perceive Omar al-Mukhtar, the lionized anti-colonial freedom fighter and father figure of modern Libya, as an extremist.

3 Salafi-jihadis often refer to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord as the “Frigate Government”, a mocking term referencing the GNA’s original confinement to a naval base in Tripoli due to security concerns.

4 This Telegram channel specifically uses the Arabic term “taghout”. This term translates to “tyrant”, but it is particularly common within the salafi-jihadi vernacular.

i درنة ترد بعزها بإذن الله, January 23, 2019, 08:01.

ii جلاء ميديا, October 5, 2018, 11:08.

iii واقع ليبي, October 16, 2018, 18:39.

iv من 01 إلى كل الوحدات, January 8, 2019, 12:12.

v مازلنا على العهد, January 8, 2019, 04:39.

vi فوارس برقة وليبيا, November 28, 2018, 16:02.

vii درنة ترد بعزها بإذن الله, October 15, 2018, 18:07.

viii من 01 إلى كل الوحدات, January 22, 2019, 09:04.

ix واقع ليبي, November 13, 2018, 09:38.

x من 01 إلى كل الوحدات, January 20, 2019, 14:58.

xi من 01 إلى كل الوحدات. February 4, 2019, 16:30.

xii Reuters Dernia, January 14, 2019, 18:22.

xiii أندياترو.R., February 1, 2018, 08:29.

xiv كشف الحقائق, September 3, 2018, 17:55.

xv أندياترو.R., December 19, 2018, 19:01.

 

xvi رجال بنغازي, December 28, 2018, 14:05.

xvii من 01 إلى كل الوحدات, November 28, 2018, 07:41.

On 1 January, the Libyan National Army (LNA) undertook security operations around Ghadduwah, 70 km south of Sebha, that resulted in the rescue of as many as 20 civilians captured by IS during attacks by the group on al-Fuqaha and Tazerbu late last year.


Other Jihadi Actors

On 7 January, security forces arrested a former member of Ansar al-Sharia, Amad al-Ghariyani, aka “al-Zubeir”, in a house in Zawiyya. Al-Ghariyani was handed over to the Special Deterrence Forces (Rada) in Tripoli.


A weekly update of IS’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 IS in Libya this week, click here, and to read about the developments within the anti-IS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here. To read all four sections of this week’s Eye on IS in Libya report, click here.

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Throughout last week the Sirte Protection Force (SPF) was on a state of alert following reports of the presence of IS fighters near Sirte. Several days before, the SPF posted photos of their manned checkpoints on the outskirts of the city.


Other Jihadi Actors

On 8 October, the spokesperson for the Libyan National Army (LNA), Ahmed Mesmari, stated that the Libyan National Army (LNA) had captured former Egyptian Special Forces officer turned Egyptian jihadist, Hisham al-Ashmawy, in the al-Maghar neighborhood of Derna. Al-Ashmawy was captured with a suicide vest on, which he had failed to detonate. Photos published by the LNA show al-Ashmawy bloodied and receiving treatment following his arrest. Following his capture, Egyptian security officials have called for his extradition.

Described by some security officials as Egypt’s most wanted man, Al-Ashmawy (also known as Abu Omar Al-Muhajir) joined the Egyptian Armed forces in the 1990s and became a member of the Egyptian Special Forces in 1996, before eventually being expelled from the military for his radicalization. He then joined a north Sinai militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. However, when this group pledged its allegiance to IS in July 2014, Ashmawy split from the group and established his own group that became linked with al-Qaeda. Al-Ashmawy led the al-Qaeda front groups al-Mourabitoun and later Jama’at Ansar al-Islam.

Al-Ashmawy is thought to have been using Derna as a safe haven from which to springboard into Egypt to launch attacks. Al-Ashmawy is accused of several attacks in Egypt including an assassination attempt on then Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim in 2013 and killing a leading Egyptian public prosecutor by car bombing in 2015.

Al-Ashmawy was captured along with the wife and sons of Omar Rifai Sorour, the alleged Mufti of the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council who was killed in June of this year. He was also arrested with Bahaa Ali and Merai Abdefattah Khalil Zoghbi. Zoghbi is listed by the UN Security Council and Interpol as a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), al-Qaeda, and Ansar al-Islam. The jihadist is said to have escaped from Italy to Turkey in 2009 where he was provided political asylum. He is thought to have returned to Libya in 2011, fighting with LIFG members amongst the Rafa’a al-Sahti Brigade that would eventually become part of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.


A weekly update of IS’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 IS in Libya this week, click here, and to read about the developments within the anti-IS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here. To read all four sections of this week’s Eye on IS in Libya report, click here.

Eye-on-Isis-Logo-001

On 10 September, three IS fighters raided Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) offices in central Tripoli, leaving at least two staff members dead and another 10 injured. The Special Deterrence Force (Rada) were reportedly deployed to the area and engaged in a shoot out with the assailants.

National Oil Corporation (NOC) Chairman Mustafa Sanallha was inside the headquarters at the time of the incident, but was safely removed from the building by Rada. Following the incident, Rada published photos from surveillance camera footage showing the assailants entering the building and the arms and ammunition that had been seized. The images also show that the building has suffered some damage as a result of the attack. The following day IS’s Telegram Channel, Nashir, claimed responsibility for the attack.


Other Jihadi Actors

On 7 September, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM)-linked media accounts published a eulogy for the Libyan AQIM commander Miloud Sadaga. Sadaga was originally from Derna and joined AQIM in 2008, going on to fight in Aurès and Kabylia, and then returned and fought against the LNA, where he died, under the banner of Ansar al-Shaira.

A weekly update of IS’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 IS in Libya this week, click here, and to read about the developments within the anti-IS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here. To read all four sections of this week’s Eye on IS in Libya report, click here.

Eye-on-Isis-Logo-001

On 2 May, at least two suicide bombers blew themselves up while multiple gunmen assaulted the Libyan electoral commission headquarters in Tripoli. According to Libyan officials at least 12 people have been killed and several more injured. IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, naming the suicide bombers as Abu Ayub and Abu Tawfik.

On the 26 April, Sirte security forces found a body in an orange jumpsuit, thought to have been killed by IS. It is unclear if the body was from a recent killing or from when IS controlled the city up until late 2016.


Other Jihadi Actors

On 23 April, reports suggest the al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia (AS) were involved in clashes between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) west of Derna near Wadi al-Arqub. This follows an arrest by the LNA earlier in the month on 12 April of an AS figure from Sirte named Salem Abdul Qaway al-Gaddafi while hiding in the Jufra area.

On 23 and 25 April, LNA sources report that the Derna Mujahadeen Shura Council (DMSC) conducted two operations against LNA positions west and south of Derna respectively, with the latter killing two LNA fighters after their tank was destroyed by a pre-planted mine.


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

Other Jihadi Actors

On 12 April, Libyan National Army (LNA) forces arrested an Ansar al-Sharia (AS) figure from Sirte named Salem Abdul Qaway al-Gaddafi while hiding in the Jufra area. On 27 May 2017, AS officially announced that it had disbanded itself. AS’s leadership and fighting force had been decimated due to three years of fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA). On 14 April, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Abdurrazaq al-Nadhouri, issued “final readiness” orders to LNA troops station near Derna heralding an impending assault on the city controlled by the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC). This followed a meeting of the LNA’s top brass at Labraq airbase that included Nadhouri, commander of the LNA’s al-Saiqa Special Forces led by Wanis Bukhamada, commanding officer of the Karama Operations Room Brigadier General Abdul Salam al-Hassi, and other senior LNA military officials.

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

IS in Action

On 15 November, the Libyan National Army (LNA) said it had conducted two airstrikes against an IS target in the desert southeast of Sirte. According to an LNA air force commander, the target was a storage facility and hideout for IS fighters 90km south of Harawah. The site was reportedly being used as base from which to launch attacks.

On 17 November, the US conducted a drone strike against IS targets in the desert south of Sirte. It was reportedly successful, but no information has yet been officially released. According to a US defence official quoted by Fox News, the strike killed several IS fighters. It was the US’s first airstrike in Libya in two months.

Other Jihadi Actors

On 18 November, the Libyan National Army (LNA) conducted two airstrikes against Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC) targets in al-Dahra al-Hamar area, south of Derna. The LNA has enforced a siege around Derna for nearly three years in an attempt to weaken the DMSC which controls the city.

According to a report researched in early November and published by international organisation REACH on 17 November, formal entry and exit points into and out of Derna remained almost entirely closed, with only limited access to the city via informal crossing points. There are shortages of fuel and staple food supplies, while medical facilities have mostly stopped operating. Issues of lack of liquidity and a lack of municipal services such as electricity, water and rubbish collection have exacerbated the conditions. An official from the parallel eastern government’s Ministry of Health said a shipment of medicines had been sent into the city on 15 November.

On 16 November, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior said that the perpetrators of an attack against Egyptian police forces in the Wahat area in Egypt’s western desert on 20 October, in which 16 policemen and 15 gunmen were killed, were trained in Derna. The statement said that the attackers received training “on the use of heavy weapons and the manufacture of explosives,” in camps in Derna. It said that Egyptian forces have arrested Mohamed Abdullah Mosmary, a Libyan national, who was involved in the Wahat attack.

On 14 November, the Misrata local attorney released a number of high profile fighters who had been detained by Misratan security services for their suspected links to extremist groups, on the grounds of illegal arrest procedures. Amongst these fighters was Brayyek Mazeg al-Masriya, a leading Ansar al-Sharia (AS) and Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) commander from the Oil Crescent region.


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IS in Action

An attack on the ‘Tisan’ checkpoint 60km south of Ajdabiya on 25 October killed at least 3 Libyan National Army (LNA) fighters and left another two injured. The IS Amaq news agency released a statement taking responsibility for the attack. Survivors report that the assailants arrived in 7 vehicles and set the entire checkpoint on fire after seizing the LNA’s firearms.

Local sources report that on 29 October, IS fighters established a temporary checkpoint on the coastal highway 20km east of Sirte. The area in question is considered to be under the control of al-Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA). Meanwhile, tensions in Sirte continue to escalate as the city has suffered from major damage to public utilities, infrastructure, and a lack of basic foodstuffs. Heavy rainfall last week led to sewage overflow and flooding throughout the city adding to local frustration and anger.

Other Jihadis

 

Mainstream forces in the west of Libya continue the crackdown on Islamists linked with IS and Ansar al-Sharia. On 26 October, Misratan security detained three alleged jihadists in Souq al-Khamis, east of Khoms. The suspected jihadists have been identified as Ramadan Shaurbaji, Feisal Zaltum, and Mahmoud Ibshesh. Ibshesh is a member of the Farouk unit which fought against the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi in 2014 and 2015. Ibshesh was wounded in the battle in 2015 and transferred to Turkey for medical treatment before eventually returning to Khoms.

Clashes were reported earlier this week, in Zliten, a town halfway between Misrata and Khoms, between forces said to be from Misrata and local Islamist fighters. On 25 October, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari gave a press conference stating that personnel and location of arms caches had been discovered as a result of jihadis being interrogated in Misrata.


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IS in Action

On 28 September, the head of Investigations at the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, Sadeq al-Sour, held a press conference in Tripoli in which he gave the names and affiliations of several IS and Ansar al-Sharia connected individuals in Libya. He also provided details and photographs of accused, organizational charts, links and routes of travel into Libya based on 14 months of investigation. While many of the revelations and individuals named were already in public domain, this was the first time they were officially revealed or confirmed by official judicial Libyan authorities.

Al-Sour revealed that about 800 arrest warrants had been issued for nearly 200 terrorist attacks in Libya. He said there are currently 250 cases before the courts and that more than 1,000 elements belonging to terrorist organizations are wanted for justice. He also said that a database has been created containing all the information on 1,500 ISIS members.

Foreign links

Al-Sour said that more than 1,000 people belonging to terrorist organizations are wanted for justice, a large number of whom are wanted in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Fifty warrants will be delivered to Interpol for ISIS suspects abroad. He added that more than 700 bodies of ISIS fighters from Sirte are being held in mortuary fridges.

Regarding leadership of IS in Libya, he claimed several Arab leaders rotated the command of IS in Libya, in coordination with the Libyan IS leadership. He said there are Libyan individuals who participated in the Syrian war and returned to Libya with an IS philosophy, however he also said that most IS members had not been Libyan, but that they had come from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, and Chad. There are still a lot of individuals in the Sudan and Tunisia who are recruiting members.

Suspects – believed dead

Many of the perpetrators of terror attacks in Libya that al-Sour mentioned are believed dead, with many killed in the battle or Sirte. These include:

  • Abu Amer al-Jazrawi, a Saudi commander of IS in Sirte
  • Abdulhadi Zaroon, one of the important IS leaders in Sirte
  • Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, an Iraqi commander also known as Abu Nabil al-Anbari, who was appointed commander of IS in Libya.
  • Hasan Araj, who according to al-Sour was the first person to be recruited by IS in Libya

Suspects – wanted

  • Mahmoud al-Barasi, the commander of IS in Benghazi. He is wanted for arrest and according to al-Sour, is currently located in the south of Bani Walid.
  • Mahdi Salem Rajab Dingo, who was responsible for IS’s staff and military office

Attacks

Al-Sour said that more than 200 suicide bombers and assassinations had been identified across Libya. Al-Sour listed several attacks and assassinations for which he said IS was responsible. These included:

  • The Egyptian Copts who were killed in Sirte. He said that the burial sites had been identified behind Sirte’s Mahari hotel and that the AG’s Office had all the information about those responsible for the slaughter.
  • The kidnapping of the Italians in Sabratha
  • The murders of former Attorney General Abdulaziz al-Hassadi, HoR member Freha al-Barkawi, Hasan Dakam, Sheikh Mohammed bin Othman and the director of the security of Sabratha, Hasan Kamuka.
  • Attacks on oil fields and the kidnapping of foreigners
  • Many murders, kidnappings, and assassinations in Sabratha

IS funding

Al-Sour said that IS kidnapped businessmen and used the ransoms for funding. He added that most of IS’s funding came via high ranking commanders in Syria and Iraq as well as through gaining control of various Libyan banks including Central Bank of Libya branches in Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna. He revealed that the AG’s Office had issued summons for some Libyan officials who had supported some terrorist figures financially.

IS cells

Al-Sour claimed that Derna, which is currently under the control of the Derna Mujahadeen Shura Council (DMSC) was preparing itself to become an emirate like Syria and Iraq. He also said there were numerous IS cells operating across Libya, including in Misrata. He said that the AG’s Office had information about cells trying to activate themselves in Libya, one of which is connected to the Hamas movement.

Other Jihadi Actors

On 28 September, the head of Investigations at the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, Sadeq al-Sour, held a press conference in Tripoli in which he gave the names and affiliations of several IS and Ansar al-Sharia connected individuals in Libya. He gave official confirmation that Ansar al-Sharia were the nucleus of the formation of IS in Libya and that the majority of Libyan IS leaders were former al-Qaida members. He also said the financing of Ansar al-Sharia emanated from the Libyan state.

Al-Sour claimed that the storming of the US Special Mission in Benghazi on 11 September 2012, and the subsequent death of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, was carried out by Ansar al-Sharia. He said Mohamed al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, was responsible for the operation. He added that Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaida were taking instructions from al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri directly. It is interesting that this revelation was made as the trial of a key suspect in the case gets underway in the US.

On 2 October, the U.S. District court for the District of Columbia began the trial of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the Libyan man accused of orchestrating the Benghazi attack. Khatallah has been awaiting trial in the US since 2014, when he was captured by a team of US military and FBI officials in Benghazi and transported on a 13-day journey to the US aboard a Navy vessel. The case is expected to last several weeks.

On 1 October, Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesperson for the Libyan Nationa Army (LNA), said that IS and branches of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated to al-Qaida have joined forces to spread extremism in Libya. He claimed that Qatar is transporting armed IS fighters from Syria to Libya and that Qatar continues to provide financial support for terrorist organizations in Libya.

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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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