Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional branch of al Qaeda’s international organization, has posted a eulogy for Mansur al Shalali (aka “Harun”), the slain military commander of Ansar al Sharia in Libya.
The picture on the right purportedly shows Shalali. It was posted on the Good Morning Libya Twitter feed.
AQIM’s statement, which was published via social media earlier today, is further confirmation that Ansar al Sharia is seeded with al Qaeda veterans throughout its ranks. AQIM praises Shalali as a “martyr,” noting that he fought the army in Algeria for six years. Attacks on the Algerian government were long one of AQIM’s primary missions, but the weight of the organization has shifted to elsewhere in North and West Africa over time.
Ansar al Sharia announced Shalali’s death via social media on October 25. Not much was publicly known about him until that time.
However, Ansar al Sharia said in its own eulogy that Shalali “lived on the battlefields of jihad for many years,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. The group vowed to honor Shalali’s memory by continuing to fight until sharia law is implemented throughout all of Libya.
Press reports have identified Shalali as the brother of a jihadist who is slated for execution in Iraq. According to Libya’s Channel, Shalali’s brother is Adil al Shalali, who was a “leading” member of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and is awaiting execution for his role in attacks on the Iraqi Army.
It appears that Adil al Shalali was featured on an Ansar al Sharia poster published in December 2012. The poster, according to al-Wasat, advertised Ansar al Sharia-led protests on behalf of Libyans imprisoned in Iraq. The protests took place in Benghazi and Tripoli. Furthermore, a fighter going by the same name, Adil al Shalali, was identified in records recovered in Iraq as an applicant who wanted to join the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a political front for AQI at the time. The application, dated October 11, 2007, notes that Adil al Shalali is from the eastern Libyan city of Derna, where Ansar al Sharia operates to this day.
Derna has long been a hotbed of extremism and jihadism. In fact, according to AQIM, Mansur al Shalali fought in Benghazi and Derna after joining Ansar al Sharia.
The public often does not learn key details about the jihadists in al Qaeda’s network until they are dead. Both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri eulogized Mohammed al Zahawi, the first overall leader of Ansar al Sharia in Libya, earlier this year. Zahawi died in either late 2014 or early 2015. AQAP revealed that Zahawi personally met with Osama bin Laden in the Sudan during the 1990s and adopted bin Laden’s “methodology” at the time. Zahawi never discussed these details in public, preferring to hide his al Qaeda pedigree.
In an audio message released in early September, Zawahiri passed along his “condolences” to his “mujahideen brothers in the Ansar al Sharia group in Libya for the martyrdom of their emir, Sheikh Mohammed al Zahawi.” Zawahiri continued by asking Allah to compensate Ansar al Sharia for the loss of Zahawi with a “good replacement.” Zawahiri also asked Allah to “grant them success…until sharia prevails all over the blessed Libya.” That is, Zawahiri’s goals for Libya are the same as Ansar al Sharia’s. Zahawi’s replacement was ultimately named as Abu Khalid al Madani, yet another jihadist whose background is not advertised.
Ansar al Sharia Libya’s ties to AQIM have been recognized by international authorities. In November 2014, for example, the UN added Ansar al Sharia Libya to its al Qaeda sanctions list, noting that the group is “associated” with AQIM and had hosted Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s fighters in its Benghazi training camps. Some of those same fighters went on to take part in the January 2013 siege of a natural gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria. Belmokhtar runs his own al Qaeda group, Al Murabitoon, and is openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri. The UN also reported that AQIM has backed Ansar al Sharia’s suicide operations.
Ansar al Sharia Libya’s tight relationship with AQIM is no secret inside Libya. The Islamic State’s “province” in Libya, which is opposed to al Qaeda and its front groups, has even complained about the “closeness” of the two organizations’ leaders. During its “Wanted Dead” social media campaign, the Islamic State’s Libyan arm revealed additional details about the AQIM members in Ansar al Sharia’s ranks.