Jihadist rivals continue to battle in Derna, Libya

Earlier this year, one of the Islamic State’s so-called “provinces” in Derna, Libya advertised the opening of a police headquarters and a sharia court. The move was intended to demonstrate the group’s dominance over the city.

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But images posted online in the past 24 hours purportedly show the building under the control of the Islamic State’s jihadist rivals in the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), a coalition of several groups. The picture on the right, for example, was posted on the Libya Observer’s Facebook page with a note saying the MSC had “gained control” of the headquarters.

And, according to multiple reports, this symbol of the Islamic State’s governance efforts is not the only ground the group has lost in the past few days. According to the Libya Observer, the organization has lost “several of its headquarters.” The Libya Herald reports that the MSC is believed to be in “control” of “most” of Derna.

The Islamic State’s assassination of Nasir Atiyah al Akar, a prominent al Qaeda-linked jihadist in the MSC, set off this new round of fighting last week. And it is a battle Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men risk losing. A few of the Islamic State’s key leaders in Derna have been reportedly killed or captured, but the details remain murky.

While initial accounts suggest that the Islamic State is losing the fight, it is too early to declare a victor. There is an ebb and flow to such battles, and the group has struck back by unleashing its signature suicide bombers in the heart of the city.

Still, early indications suggest the fighting has not gone the “caliphate’s” way.

The MSC alliance and the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), which is one of the key groups in the MSC, are assaulting Islamic State positions throughout the city.

In addition to the police building, the MSC has released a statement claiming that the Islamic State’s fighters have been cleared out of the Bab-Tobruk neighborhood in Derna. The MSC says the neighborhood was a “stronghold” for the Islamic State.

The MSC’s statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, highlights the different approaches being taken by the rivals. Whereas the Islamic State’s “province” claims to be the only true authority, representing a top-down totalitarian state, the MSC positions itself as the guardian of the people.

“Our fight in the past [was] against those who rule with other than what Allah descended, [and] was to raise the word of Islam,” the MSC’s statement reads, according to SITE’s translation. Today, the group fights against the “Kharijites,” meaning extremists (a reference to the Islamic State), and “to defend our city against any tyrannical aggression, whether from the supporters of [General Khalifa al] Haftar or from the supporters of [Abu Bakr] al Baghdadi or from whoever.”

The MSC calls on the Islamic State’s fighters to repent and submit themselves to a sharia court for judgment, appealing for help from the “parents of the young boys from among those mischief-doers.” The MSC “will – by the grace of Allah – assist them and re-discipline them with the manner of the straight path.”

The MSC does not want its fighters to seek revenge, ordering its men to stay out of the Islamic State fighters’ homes, “for they have women, children, and those who have no guilt.”

In a separate statement, the MSC calls on foreigners to disown the Islamic State and join its ranks. The message is clearly aimed at the significant contingent of foreign fighters in Derna who have fueled the Islamic State’s growth in the city.

Various reports say that protests against the Islamic State were held in Derna after Friday prayers this past week. Some unconfirmed accounts say that the Islamic State opened fire on the protesters.

Meanwhile, Islamists and others throughout Libya have voiced their support for the MSC.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Oberron says:


    Here we go again. Tactical retreats, feints within feints, knives in the dark, and seemingly out of the blue for those not paying attention IS gains a city.

    Even when their opponents win, its a hollow victory.

  • irebukeu says:

    The MSC seems to be taking the al qaeda route of trying to mend the fences by appearing to be the reasonable party. In the end I think, as the IS fails, this approach towards reconciliation will win out with the “umma”

    Meanwhile General Haftar, people should be aware, has mended his rift with the Libyan government and is once again part of the army. General Haftar is a US citizen who was rescued from his fate in Africa by the CIA in the 90’s. Opposed to KIAdaffy he was, During the arab spring, unleashed on the Libyan people once again. He seems to have support of Egypt and the UAE.
    If there is any solution to Libya and there is, General Haftar IMO will have to be a part of it.
    He sure has my support for now because it will be General Haftar and his cronies that keep American boots off the ground. Facilitate the support, pay for it with Libyan oil. Let them pay their way (30% down, net in 90 days). Let the arab states outfit him and even send their soldiers to operate under him since it is they that would feel the cut of the islamic knife deepest.

    So general Haftar waits on the sidelines for a while, refitting and retraining, rearming. getting ready for the next push. They are a existing force, a proxy already in the field As long as the Libyan government and Haftar are willing to battle these clowns, we should facilitate more arab support for them. Let them fight each other for a while first though.


  • Evan says:


    Exactly how has IS gained anything? Much less the city of Derna?

    Did you read the article?

    Are you some kinda IS schill a la “Abu Adam?”

    How are victories against the IS hollow? It seems to me that they’ve been doing somewhat well for themselves with regard to their expansion efforts, so any setbacks to their so called plans are much appreciated, even if those setbacks are coming at the hands of other AQ types….
    Hell, that’s the way I prefer it.

  • Tony says:

    Oberron, it’s always been like that. Even when Jihadists didn’t really control any territory, it was still like as you described. People really don’t change, especially people in this region of the world.


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