Islamic State concedes its fighters ‘retreated’ from Derna, Libya

16-04-22 MSC Derna after its %22liberation%22 from ISIS

The Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) released a short video showing Derna after its “liberation” from the Islamic State.

A media arm of the Islamic State concedes that the so-called caliphate’s fighters have retreated from their positions outside of Derna, Libya. The jihadists withdrew from their bases earlier this week under pressure from rival groups in the city and the Libyan military. [See LWJ report, Islamic State fighters retreat from bases outside Derna, Libya.]

Amaq News Agency, which provides updates on the Islamic State’s fighting around the globe, released a statement earlier today saying the Islamic State’s men have “retreated from [Al Fatayih] area, near the coastal city of Derna in Libya’s northeast.”

Amaq portrays the move as a tactical withdrawal, saying Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s followers “succeeded in breaking through the siege imposed by combatants of the Shura Council of Revolutionaries in Derna (SCRD) by assaulting the Hilah area, south of Derna” on April 18. Two “martyrdom operations where carried out” in Hilah. This supposedly led to the Islamic State taking “control of all SCRD points in the area, capturing large amounts of weapons and ammunition, as well as killing many SCRD combatants, in addition to clearing the road taken by Islamic State fighters toward the desert areas in the south.”

The “Shura Council of Revolutionaries in Derna (SCRD)” mentioned by Amaq is the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in Derna and its allies. The MSC is an al Qaeda-linked alliance of jihadist groups that opposed the Islamic State’s expansion in the North African nation. The MSC pushed the Islamic State’s Libyan branch out of the heart of Derna last year, forcing Baghdadi’s loyalists to operate on the city’s eastern outskirts in Al Fatayih.

Amaq notes that Al Fatayih, “which is characterized by its ruggedness, remained a bastion for the fighters of the Islamic State for months on end, after they retreated from the city of Derna following a sudden military campaign [led] by the Fajr Libya government-backed SCRD against them.”

Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) is a coalition of Islamist militias. The Islamic State has repeatedly criticized Fajr Libya and the MSC (which Amaq refers to as the SCRD) for failing to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi and other reasons.

In the aftermath of the Islamic State’s withdrawal from Al Fatayih, the MSC has released a statement warning residents of the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around their homes. The MSC also posted a video online showing Derna and the surrounding area after its “liberation.” A screen shot from the video, which was likely recorded using a small commercial drone, can be seen above.

As Amaq reports, however, the Islamic State’s fighters continue to battle their way south of Derna. It is likely that some of them will make their way to the group’s strongholds in Sirte or elsewhere. While Baghdadi’s organization failed to conquer Derna, it remains strong elsewhere in Libya.

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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