Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked group, claims to have shot down a Libyan jet earlier today. The claim of responsibility (seen above) was posted on Twitter feeds maintained by Ansar al Sharia’s propaganda arm (Al Rayah Media) and radio station. The organization says a special air defense brigade was responsible for the jet’s crash, but no other details were provided. Jihadists also tweeted images of the plane’s wreckage (see below).
Libya’s Air Force chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Saqr al-Jaroushi, told the Associated Press (AP) that a plane was in fact shot down. The Libyan MIG32 fighter “was striking the positions of Islamic State militants and other militias in the eastern town of Derna when it came under fire by anti-aircraft guns,” according to the AP. Al-Jaroushi said “the pilot ejected and landed safely.”
Although the Islamic State has grown significantly inside Libya since 2014, Ansar al Sharia’s leadership remains loyal to al Qaeda. The organization operates its own training camps in Derna and elsewhere in Libya. An alliance of jihadist groups known as the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) also maintains an extensive presence in the eastern Libyan city.
The MSC, which was formed in late 2014, opposed the Islamic State’s expansion in Derna. The two sides have repeatedly clashed. In mid-2015, the MSC pushed Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s followers out of their strongholds inside the interior of the city, but the “caliphate” still has cadres of fighters in Derna’s suburbs.
Pictures of the Libyan jet Ansar al Sharia claims to have downed: