Ansar al-Shari’a - Darnah, Libya
Ansar al-Sharia announced in a 27 May 2017 statement posted online that it was formally dissolving itself; this following heavy losses which had wiped out its leadership.
Ansar al-Shari'a [which means Army of Islamic Law] - Darnah / Derna is an Islamist group. In 2008, Chris Stevens wrote a remarkably perceptive profile of Derna, a town of some 50,000 people, where an increasingly conservative religious atmosphere that had prevailed since the 1980s. A number of Libyans who had fought and in some cases undergone "religious and ideological training" in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the late 1970's and early 1980's had returned to eastern Libya, including Derna.
The Department of State announced 10 February 2014 the designations of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi, Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah, and Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia as separate Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities under section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. In addition to these group designations, the Department of State has also designated Ahmed Abu Khattalah, Sufian bin Qumu, and Seifallah Ben Hassine, commonly known as “Abou Iyadh,” as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under E.O. 13224.
The consequences of the FTO and E.O. 13224 designations include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with these organizations, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization and individuals that are in the United States, or come within the United States or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
Created separately after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah had been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya, and the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya. Members of both organizations continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests in Libya. Ahmed Abu Khattalah is a senior leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Sufian bin Qumu is the leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah.
Islamic extremism continued to spread across the globe, exploiting the seams of conflict such as in Syria, weakly governed territory such as in Libya, and politically marginalized groups such as the Sunni in Iraq under President Maliki. With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, ISIL began to assemble a growing international footprint that included ungoverned and under governed areas.
The most prominent Daesh affiliate in Libya is the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC). In October 2014, the IYSC declared that Derna, a small town on the north-eastern coast and some 720 km (450 miles) from Tripoli, had become the first Libyan town to join the caliphate that IS had created. However, it was later pushed out of the town by the al-Qaeda-linked Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna.
In Darnah, clashes continued in 2015 between ISIL and other extremist groups. The Darnah Mujahideen Shura Council and ISIL coexisted in Darnah without overt animosity until May 2015, but in June the Shura Council drove ISIL out of the town centre in less than a week. While some groups of the ISIL rank and file defected to the Shura Council, others fled west to Sirte or east to the neighbouring area of Fata’ih. ISIL has retained a presence on the eastern outskirts of Darnah.
In Darnah, the Darnah Mujahideen Shura Council, an extremist coalition, openly fought ISIL in 2015. Its relationship with another United Nations-listed entity, the fragmented Ansar al Charia Derna (QDe.145), was less clear, however. At least a faction of Ansar al Charia Derna joined the Shura Council. Moreover, it continued to publish photographs of promotional activities after the Shura Council had ousted ISIL from Darnah, indicating that it can operate freely in the Shura Council-controlled town.
At the political level, there is high-level and public support for the the Darnah Mujahideen Shura Council. For example, throughout the Darnah operations against ISIL, the Darnah Mujahideen Shura Council received strong oral support from several authority figures in Tripoli.
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