Monday, 28 July 2014
Libya: In-fighting between Islamist militias in Derna
Besides the ongoing fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi another flashpoint has emerged in the eastern coastal town of Derna. Unlike the current conflict in Libya’s two largest cities the clashes in Derna are between rival militant Islamist groups rather than between mainstream Islamist and liberals. A major battle has developed between two main groups: the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade and the Majlis Shura Shabab Al-Islam fi Derna (the Shura Council of the Youth of Islam in Derna) and its allies.
This battle is mainly one for control over the town but there are also distinct differences of ideological approach. The Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade was formed during the revolution and comprises mainly former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Its cadres were formed during the era when national militant movements emerged out of the Afghanistan war of the 1970s and returned home to challenge authoritarian regimes.
The Majlis Shura Shabab Al-Islam fi Derna is completely different. Formed very recently, its members are generally young and aspire to more transnational jihadist ideologies and movements. The group reportedly includes a number of young Libyans who returned from fighting in Syria, Mali and Algeria.
These militant groups have become increasingly embroiled in a tit-for-tat battle of killings and revenge killings that have seen some key commanders on both sides assassinated.
Meanwhile some of the groups that are affiliated with the Majlis Shura Shabab Al-Islam fi Derna are now declaring their allegiance to ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. This includes the recently emerged Al-Bata’a Brigade and the Abu Mahjan Al-Ta’ifi Brigade, whose emir declared his support for Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, after he declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. As a symbol of this support a group of 50 mujahedeen, including fighters, doctors and oil engineers, was sent to Iraq to support the cause. The 50 also included a number of jihadists who are willing to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers.
That these brigades and groups are allying themselves with ISIS is a worrying development which brings a whole new dimension to the militancy that has implanted itself in Derna and elsewhere in the country.
© 2014 Menas Associates