MAP: The situtation in #Derna city and its surrounding area

Map by: @TheMaghrebiNote

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‘Islamic State’ in Libya repeats same media-manoeuvre from Syria & Iraq

Article written by @TheMaghrebiNote

The ‘Islamic State’ as it is known has a base in Libya, most notably in the city of Dernah where the former Majlis Shabab Al-Islam fi Dernah is now operating under its name.

The Islamic State’s effort to appear as a governing authority
Something that often goes unnoticed is how the ‘Islamic State’ uses its media skills in Libya, what are their goals and how are they trying to achieve them?
One thing that becomes noticeable and often resembles how the ‘Islamic State’ acted in Syria is their attempt at showing themselves as a governing power and not just a militancy.
And example of this is a picture series released by the ‘Islamic State’ January the 12th and January the 16th 2015. In the first release, the ‘Islamic State’ shows pictures of men patrolling in what they refer to as “Wilayat, Tarabalus”, now after asking a resident of Sirte, the streets and markets resemble exactly those in Sirte – these pictures however serve as a an important part in the ‘Islamic State’ media tactics, these are directly aimed at its current hardcore supporters but also those who are at the verge of sympathizing with them.
You would often see in Syria how ISIS back then would release images and videos of them governing, giving aid, applying the Islamic penal code ect. – all that played into their hands and was a huge magnet in terms of foreign recruits and it was arguably the most vital part of ISIS’ recruitment success in Syria.

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A picture allegedly showing ‘Islamic State’ office for “Police forces” situated in Dernah

And in another release in January the 16th, the ‘Islamic State’ shows pictures of their fighters destroying a Shrine – this is an interesting scenario because from Iraq and Syria we have seen that the ‘Islamic State’ almost collectively in all of their captures of cities have destroyed shrines and other alike symbols, so for them this is a symbolic event that they can repeat the same actions in Libya.
What is worth noticing in both releases is that the ‘Islamic State’ uses the wording “Rijaal Hisbah” to describe both the campaign of patrolling in the markets of Sirte but also destruction of the Shrine – the title means Men of the Hisba Force, in Islamic teaching they are are groups of men that roam the streets of an Islamic governorate to guard the safety of the people and to command the people towards the good.
For the ‘Islamic State’ to use such a term is interesting because in reality the ‘Islamic State’ does not control Sirte although it was a stronghold of Ansar Al-Sharia militants, many of whom now have joined the ‘Islamic State’ and thus allowing them to have a base in the city.
But despite this the ‘Islamic State’ uses this term because to its supporters it shows again that it has those governing aspects in Libya, although it is worth noting the strength of the ‘Islamic State’ in terms of governing in Libya is minimal, almost non-existing, even in the city of Dernah where they have their strongest presence, the ‘Islamic State’ shares power with other more powerful groups like Abu Slim Martyrs brigade & Libyan Islamic Army.

Islamic State’s attitude towards other Islamist groups incl. Jihadis
And while we speak about Dernah, the ‘Islamic State’s’ approach towards other groups, especially the Shura Council of Dernah[1] is very interesting. The ‘Islamic State’ has conducted several operations in cooperation with the Shura Council but the ‘Islamic State’ has chosen not to mention anyone but themselves.
In a statement released summarizing an attack on Labraq Military Airport conducted by the Shura Council of Dernah in cooperation IS militants, the statement released by the Shura Council mentions the attack was done in cooperation with ‘another group’ without mentioning the ‘Islamic State’ explicitly, while the ‘Islamic State’ only mentions itself[2].
This is an important part of the ‘Islamic State’s’ media-campaign as they & their supporters regard themselves as an actual Caliphate…that means there is no room for groups or organizations or councils to exist in the same land as the ‘Islamic State’ has presence, but as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi said in his speech, “And even if the disbelievers dislike it”, it is incumbent upon those groups in Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Sinai ect. to join the ‘Islamic State’.
So it would be a great sign of weakness to its supporters that after Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi demanded oaths of allegiances from other groups that in fact the ‘Islamic State’s’ authority is limited for these groups to be able to deny giving their pledges.

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Statement by the ‘Islamic State’ on the Labraq Military Airport attack

But besides this what is also worth noting is that strategically the ‘Islamic State’ does not want to really make enemies with these groups like the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade or Feb. 17th Brigade as they are much more powerful. Similar to the situation in Syria pre-infighting era the Islamic State often did cooperative attacks with Jabhat Al-Nusra and even alike Islamist groups, of course that changed drastically because in the post-infighting era in Syria it became beneficial and strategically smart for the ‘Islamic State’ to show themselves as ‘the only guided ones’.

Recruitment efforts & methods
Something that is very important to remember when one talks about the ‘Islamic State’ is their recruitment methods. Of course a big part of their recruitment efforts are based in the media area, but specifically the Islamic State is known for videos that are very direct and target specific audiences. For example videos with French speakers calling Frenchmen to make Hijra[3] or Britons calling their fellow countrymen to also make their way to the ‘Islamic State’. The ‘Islamic State’ in Libya has not released many videos but they have in fact released a video that falls under this category.
On January the 20th the ‘Islamic State’ released a video featuring two Tuareg fighters speaking Berber language while calling on youth in the region of Azawad (Northern Mali) to make their way towards the ‘Islamic State’ in Libya while also demanding Jihadi groups in the region of Islamic Maghreb to give their pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi including those in Mali[4].
This is symbolic in several ways; first of all it is a way for the ‘Islamic State’ in Libya to show themselves not just as an established brand among Libyans, but also beyond Libyans.
Something that the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq often brags about is that they have fighters from all types of countries. On the other hand the fact that the ‘Islamic State’ released this video from Sirte[5] in their Wiliyat Tarabalus is also important to note because its a way for them to “debunk” the claim that they only exist in Dernah, of course as mentioned this is in the sight of their supporters.

The ‘Islamic State’ also has made efforts to recruit via. Social media – as we saw in Syria scores of foreign fighters on twitter linking to their ask.fm for those who wanted to ask questions on how to reach to Syria or a short Kik referral. Now of course that was in an unmatchable size but nevertheless the ‘Islamic State’ in Libya does have twitter accounts of members from the group and besides this, ‘Islamic State’ members have released a short guide for those living in Tunisia on how to reach the ‘Islamic State’ in Dernah.

There is also a blog run by one of the ‘Islamic State’ fighters in Libya posting regular updates on the situation in Dernah and as recent as last week there was spreading an article allegedly written on a story about a one of the ‘Islamic State’ supporters who joined the ‘Islamic State’ in Libya, all the way from the Arabian Peninsula.
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A map released by ‘Islamic State’ members in Libya showing the three official regions of the IS branch in Libya

So the ‘Islamic state’ is using the power of social media to expand their reach and to recruit and no doubt just like in Syria using the media to propagate their message to their supporters and to recruit – and most importantly the ‘Islamic State’ is doing all it can to deliver a strong message to its supporters on its authority in terms of both military and governance.

[1] Shura Council of Dernah, a newly formed Shura Council consisting of three Major groups in Dernah; Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, Ansar Al-Sharia Dernah & Libyan Islamic Army

[2] https://twitter.com/MaghrebiNote/status/556181027031642112

[3] Islamic term for emigrating if one is not able to practice his religion in a non-Islamic state

[4] English Translation of the video: https://themaghrebinote.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/translation-of-new-is-video-featuring-two-tuareg-fighters-in-tripoli/

[5] The video is filmed in what the ’Islamic State’ refer to as ”Wiliyat Tarabalus” (Tropolitania), as their precense in this area is shrinked to Sirte and sleeper cells in Tripoli its most likely Sirte this video was filmed in taking that into account and also almost all releases from ”Wiliyat Tarabalus” have been conducted in Sirte

Translation of new IS video featuring two Tuareg-fighters in Tripoli

First speaker, Abu Sulayman, Tuareg:

“A message to our brothers everywhere wether in Libya, Mali or Algeria, we say peace upon you and brothers, the time has come for you to give allegiance to the ‘Islamic Caliphate’, because the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ is not what the people claim about it.
The ‘Islamic State’ is subjected to distortion by the media through their false lies. And I say to the youth that ‘Jihad’ is an individual obligation in this current battle and let anyone who is not excused of the youth march forth to ‘Jihad’. And at last I send my greetings to all of our brothers and specifically those in Azawad” (Northen Mali)

Second Speaker, Abu Umar, Tuareg:

“I want to send a message to our brothers and sisters everywhere, we are here in the ‘Islamic State’ and we call them to Migrate to the ‘Islamic State’ and that they should not believe the lies of the disbelievers on the TV-stations and the Internet, and we are right now in the ‘Islamic State’ full of happiness, happiness that the happiest of the disbelievers does not feel, wether its happiness in the soul or in the body. And I call my Tuareg brothers to migrate to the ‘Islamic State’ and that they give pledge of allegiance to “The leader of the Believers” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and we call them to unite and to discard disunity. The people do not believe that it is a legitimate Islamic State and the disbeliever say about it that it is a terrorist organisation and they refer to it with the worst of names and they do all of that in order for the people not to join the ‘Islamic State’. And for that reason I urge all the brothers to give allegiance to the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ and to migrate to it and to become among its people, the disbelievers want to distract you from your religion through publishing of images and tv-series and they refer to ‘Jihad’ as being terrorism in order to bring you away from your religion through lies. Now, the disbelievers do not bother or care about all banners except for the ‘Banner of Tawhid’ (monotheism). If the banner of Tawheed (monotheism) is raised on truth then the whole word seeks to fight it. And lastly, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon you.”

Clash of two Jihadi Fronts in Eastern Libya, Derna

Article published by: TheMaghrebiNote

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In the city of Dernah, two groups with Jihadi ideology have found themselves to be the most powerful and influential groups. Although they both can be classified as Salafi Jihadis, they are indeed not on good terms.
The dispute is between the group known as “Abu Slim Martyrs brigade” which is led by Shâykh Salim Derby, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group, now among the leaders and prominent figures in Abu Slim Martyrs brigade.

Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade mainly consists of Libyan fighters and was formed during the revolution. Their stance and ideology is very clear, they want to establish Islamic Governance in Libya ruled by Islamic Law. Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade is mostly active in the group at the moment providing and securing fuel and protecting the Banks from robbery.

The other front is the group known as the Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Dernah, a group that is known for its close ties to the ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq & Syria, and they already claimed to have given their pledge of allegiance to the ‘Islamic State’ leader.
The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Dernah consists of local fighters, mainly youth, but also fighters who have been to Syria to fight and have now returned and allegedly some foreign fighters from Tunisia & Algeria. The group is active in the city with occasional ‘Dawah (advocacy) Events’ and gatherings, such as a gathering they held the 31st October 2014 which they named; “Extending hands forth for pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi” – so there is no doubt that this group is vocal and active in the city with power.

The disputes between the groups from a general point of view are of course based upon ideological differences. The Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade is a local movement who seeks to establish a local government, while the Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Dernah is a global movement, in fact they have already claimed that the ‘Caliphate’ have reached Libya and each and every Islamic group in Libya must give their pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
This however is not something Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade will tolerate nor accept, as they have stated numerous times that they will not give a pledge of allegiance to someone who is outside of Libya.

And while the Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Dernah, also known as ‘The Islamic State in Libya’ are not very open to dialogue when it comes to other ‘modernist Islamist’ groups, Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade wishes to see unity between the ranks of those who have the same goal which is establish Islamic Law.

And for this reason, Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade initiated along with other Islamist factions in Dernah the formation of a Shura Council which they named:
“The Shura Council of Mujahideen in Dernah and its suburbs”, and as the leader of Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade said in an interview with Channel Panorama Libya:

“We will not stop supporting the Mujahideen and supporting the defense of Libya and the revolution of February 17th until we rule by the law of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, pbuh”
And whilst using a rhetoric that is expressing the goals of the newly formed Shura Council as being very local and limited to Libya, Salim Derby did not compromise on reiterating exactly what his group seeks.

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Logo of the newly formed Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna & its suburbs

Besides these ideological differences that of course are what really what sparked the events that unfolded on the ground, it is also important to look at the disputes between the groups on the ground.

The main issue that really was the starting point of the drama between the two fronts was the issue of Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade granting protection, or what is known as Amânah (covenant of security) in Arabic, to Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Chairman of the National Transitional Council in Libya. The Shura Council of Islamic Youth did not tolerate this, as they see Mustafa Abdel Jalil as a ‘tyrant’.
Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade referred this matter to Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, a Jihadi ideologue and scholar – in which he advised them that a covenant of security should always be seen as an opportunity, whether the person dealt with is a Muslim or not.

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Picture taken in November of Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade after securing fuel trucks for the residents of Dernah

Another dispute is that the Shura Council of Islamic Youth accused the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade of joining the Supreme Committee of the Interior Ministry, which they say as ‘joining the state of apostates’ as Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade had only signed a contracts with the interior ministry – the Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Dernah demanded from the leaders of Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade to publically declare ‘repentance’ and to join the Shura Council of the Islamic Youth.
As Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade refused to do this, Shura Council of Islamic Youth started to assassinate leaders and members of the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, including Abu Bilal who was killed in 30th May 2014 after a bomb was placed under his car.
While the Shura Council of Islamic Youth also claimed that Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade had protected and facilitated security for polling places at the elections July 2012, although this was denied completely by Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade

The Shura Council of the Islamic Youth and Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade at the moment are not exchanging fire, although there are still conflicts & issues in the air and these issues could at anytime intensify and cause a second round of an all-out war between two Jihadi fronts, so close ideologically yet so far.

Abu Salim Martyrs brigade new video named: “Events & Commentary”

“Events & Commentary” Based on Islamic Jurisprudence the soldiers of Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, in bid to not limit the establishment of Islamic Law to simply the Penal code while not preserving the objectives that the Islamic Law was sent down to achieve – most notably of these is the protection of the wealth Based on this…and as it is their habit when crises and chaos intensifies, your brothers in the Abu Slim martyrs brigade have established, under their ongoing campaign of securing the wealth of the Muslims through the Main Branch of the ‘Unity Bank’ in the city of Dernah https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=376840172483989&permPage=1

Al-Qaeda and Jihadis in Mali adapt to new reality after French invasion;

Article Published byTheMaghrebiNote

The Jihadis in Mali have been affected by the French invasion of Mali and operation they named Operation Serval.
Not only did Al-Qaeda and its allies had to deal with big casualties, but also their operational capabilities have been weakened heavily.

Although looking at the changes and the strategic adjustments that Al-Qaeda and its allies have made, something suggests that they are now adapting to the new reality that they face.
Following the Al-Qaeda manual after being pushed out of Northern-Mali, the Jihadis have applied a Guerilla Warfare campaign – ambushing the UN-forces and the French Army where they least expect it.

Over the last few months, we have seen the Jihadis conduct several attacks on UN-forces stationed in Northern Mali, leaving especially the Chadian forces to face a great number of Casualties.

Furthermore the different organizations, two of them being officially linked to Al-Qaeda facing their ideological differences have adjusted some of the roles appointed to each group. AQIM together with Ansar Al-Dine are running most of the Guerilla Warfare campaign in Northern Mali, especially the Timbuktu-area and Kidal region.

Al-Mourabitoune, Red Beard & Mokhtar Belmokhtar and their role
Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his ally, Omar Hamaha also known as “Red Beard” now seem to be lesser focused on Mali, although they have carried out attacks this year, their main position is to carry out attacks in Niger targeting French interests. On 21st November, Al-Mourabitoune claimed responsibility for an attack in Niger that left 1 person dead – it was Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi, a close ally of Oumar Hamaha who claimed responsibility for the attack. Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi along with his friend Omar Hamaha were both announced dead by the French in airstrikes, Abu Assem Al-Muhajir, the former spokesman of Al-Mourabitoune had denied that claim in an interview with ANI. Although now it seems that Abu Assem Al-Muhajir was arrested by Nigerien forces boosted by the fact that it was Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi who claimed responsibility for latest attack and not Abu Assem.

Its important to note that Oumar Hamaha had already pledged his allegiance to Mokhtar Belmokhtar hence its perfectly logical for a top-figure in the former MUJAO, Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi to become spokesman for Al-Mourabitoune, Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group

Ansar Al-Dine and their importance for Al-Qaeda
Ansar Al-Dine in Mali function as a very important group when it comes to the existence and effectiveness of Al-Qaeda in Mali and its future.

Initially Ansar Al-Dine in Mali functioned as an umbrella group for Al-Qaeda, very much like Harakat Al-Shabab in Somalia. A group that can formally function and appear as a local movement seeking local goals – and before the French intervened, this tactic was applied by Al-Qaeda in order to prevent a possible international intervention.
The effectiveness of that tactic that was applied by Al-Qaeda before the intervention now seem to be pointless, for that reason it would be very likely that Ansar Al-Dine sooner or later will be tied under Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – although one thing that still is important for Al-Qaeda is Iyad Ag Ghali, his regional influence & power and his love for the implementation of Islamic governance in the region.

Al-Qaeda in Mali seem at the moment to be very much beat down in light of Operation Serval and also upcoming struggle under Operation Barkhane – although it seems Al-Qaeda and its allied have prepared for this, as Abu Mus’ab Abdelwadod (Abdelmalek Droukdel), leader of AQIM said in a video released by AQIM’s media wing, Al-Andalus media foundation named “French Invasion of Mali, a proxy war”:

“If you want it a war then we are ready, and we will attain victory through the power and might of Allah, as he said in his book; “Those who were certain in their return to their lord said, how many times a small army vanquished a mighty army, indeed Allah is with the patient”

Pledging that their few numbers will not keep them away from continuing fighting this war, despite the great losses.