Suicide bomber strikes security checkpoint near Benghazi, Libya
A suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb at a checkpoint outside the city of Benghazi earlier today. The number of casualties varies in the early reporting. According to Al Arabiya, at least 13 people were killed. Several of the victims are Libyan soldiers.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Reuters, the Libyan Army has blamed Ansar al Sharia, the al Qaeda-linked group that took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US Mission in Benghazi.
The bombing is the latest in a string of attacks on Libyan security personnel. On Dec. 20, Colonel Fethallah al Gaziri, who was recently appointed the head of military intelligence in Benghazi, was assassinated. Al Gaziri was attending the wedding of his niece in Derna, Libya when gunmen opened fire, according to Al Jazeera.
Ansar al Sharia has been battling government forces in Derna and Benghazi. The group has a strong presence in both eastern Libyan cities.
Ansar al Sharia has repeatedly claimed that is members are not behind the violence. The group has also attempted to portray recent events as part of a Western conspiracy to interfere in Libya's affairs. Statements released by al Qaeda's senior leadership have advanced a similar theme.
In a statement released on the group's official Twitter page on Dec. 19, Ansar al Sharia Libya's sharia committee denounced anyone who accuses the organization of engaging in violence. Ansar al Sharia alleged that a series of unspecified recent "incidents" have been "concocted by enemies to divert the attention of Muslims away" from implementing sharia in Libya. The group warned that Libya was "sliding" towards collaboration and "subordination to the West." Ansar al Sharia further claimed that "some people" want "to enable the US-Western project of fighting Islam."
Suicide attacks uncommon in post-revolution Tunisia, Libya
While gunfights, assassinations, and bombings have become common occurrences in Libya following the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, the country's longtime dictator, jihadists had refrained from suicide bombings.
Suicide bombings have not been common in post-revolution Tunisia either. In October, however, a jihadist blew himself up outside of the Riadh Palm hotel in Sousse. No one, other than the bomber himself, was killed. A second suicide bomber was arrested before he could detonate his bomb.
Tunisian officials blamed Ansar al Sharia for dispatching the suicide bombers. "The two suicide bombers are radical Islamist jihadists. They are Tunisians, but they had been in a neighboring country," Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Laroui told Reuters, without specifying the country, which may be Libya.
In October, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters: "There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia [Tunisia], al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya. We are coordinating with our neighbors over that."
In late August, Tunisian security officials accused Ansar al Sharia of having a "close" relationship with AQIM. At a press conference, according to Tunis Afrique Presse, they "reported the existence of close links between Ansar al Sharia and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), showing journalists the handwritten Allegiance Act" between Ansar al Sharia's leader, Seifallah Ben Hassine, and AQIM's emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel.
In a response to the Tunisian government's accusations, Ansar al Sharia reaffirmed its "loyalty" to al Qaeda while claiming to be organizationally independent.
AQIM officials have openly praised and blessed Ansar al Sharia.