Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) is a violent jihadist group that seeks to implement sharia (Islamic law) in Libya. ASL is the union of two smaller groups, the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade in Benghazi (ASB) and Ansar al-Sharia Derna (ASD), each formed in 2011 after the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. In 2012, ASB and ASD, alongside other Islamist militant groups, attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

The 2012 Benghazi attack was a major turning point for the two groups. Following widespread backlash in Libya and abroad, ASB was forced out of Benghazi and ASD disbanded. ASB then underwent a major rebranding effort, changing its name to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (removing from its name the word “brigade”) and publicly denouncing violence. The group also denied its connections to the consulate attack and to al-Qaeda. Under its new name, ASL launched a dawa (proselytizing) campaign, under which it provided social services and charity in Benghazi. Through this campaign, ASL was able to win back the trust of many Libyans, and in 2013 ASL opened new branches in Derna, Sirte, and Ajdabiya.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya’s Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/12/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi/; Aya Elbrqawi, “Slow Death of Derna,” AllAfrica, February 28, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201403031054.html.

However, while ASL had publicly embraced peace, many remained skeptical of the group’s intentions. Foreign and local intelligence has revealed that since 2012, ASL has increased ties with international violent jihadist groups, including by holding clandestine meetings with al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and training and exporting fighters to conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Mali.Thomas Joscelyn, “UN recognizes ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya, al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php; Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Evidence on Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya Training Camps,” Al-Wasat, August 8, 2013, https://thewasat.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/new-evidence-on-ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-training-camps/. In the past, ASL’s former leader, Mohamed al-Zahawi, had openly declared his support for al-Qaeda.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589.

On May 16, 2014, retired Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar launched a massive assault—codenamed “Operation Dignity”—on Islamist groups in Benghazi.Jomana Karadsheh, “Islamist militants strike back against Benghazi renegades; 15 killed,” CNN, June 2, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/02/world/africa/libya-violence/. Although ASL initially maintained control of Benghazi, civilian uprisings within the city and offensives launched by Haftar have gradually eroded ASL’s control. In February 2015, Haftar’s forces retook the port area of Benghazi, considered to be the last major area of the city left under ASL’s domain. As of February 2015, estimates indicate ASL controls less than 10 percent of Benghazi.Lucy Westcott, “Libyan Army Reportedly Has Taken Back Benghazi Port,” Newsweek, February 6, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/libyan-army-reported-have-taken-back-benghazi-port-305113. ASL suffered another major setback when Mohamed al-Zahawi, the group’s emir, died in January 2015 of wounds from an October 2014 airstrike.Nadia Radwan, “Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya Leader Dead,” AllAfrica, January 26, 2015, http://allafrica.com/stories/201501270208.html.

ISIS also poses a major threat to ASL. Although the two groups do appear to cooperate to an extent, ASL has not sworn allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As of April 2015, ISIS controls the previously ASL-dominated cities of Derna and Sirte but ASL has been able to maintain a presence in those municipalities.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php. Further, ASL has suffered numerous prominent defections to ISIS. Finally, ISIS’s attacks within Libya, including the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, have triggered renewed international support for eradicating extremism within Libya. Some analysts, including Michael Horowitz of Max Security Solutions, think ASL will likely pledge allegiance to ISIS in the near future.Thomas Joscelyn, “Spiritual Leader of Libya’s Biggest Jihadi Group Pledges Allegiance to ISIS,” Newsweek, April 8, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/top-judge-libyas-biggest-jihadi-group-pledges-allegiance-isis-320408.

ASL’s armed wing is also part of Majlis al-Shura (“the Shura Council”), which is made up of various militant groups.Ayman al-Warfalli, “Ten killed in new fighting in Libya’s Benghazi – medics,” Reuters, April 11, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/11/uk-libya-security-idUKKBN0N20LK20150411. The Islamist Majlis al-Shura emerged after the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and it has fought against government troops loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan government.Ayman al-Warfalli, “Ten killed in new fighting in Libya’s Benghazi – medics,” Reuters, April 11, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/11/uk-libya-security-idUKKBN0N20LK20150411; “Guards die in attack on S Korea embassy in Libya,” Al Jazeera, April 12, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/guards-die-attack-korean-embassy-libya-150412090449233.html.

Doctrine:

ASL’s primary objective is to institute sharia (Islamic law) in Libya. As the group’s former leader, Mohamed al-Zahawi, said, “Our brave youths will continue their struggle until they impose [sharia].”Ahmed Maher, “Meeting Mohammad Ali Al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, September 18, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-19638582.

Like Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, ASL advances its agenda through dawa (proselytizing), hisba (commanding right and forbidding wrong through sharia, which can include enforcement of modesty laws through violence), and jihad (in this case, armed struggle).Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Terrorist Threat in North Africa,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 10, 2013, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/testimony/ZelinTestimony20130710-v2.pdf. Like many other Islamist groups, ASL opposes achieving change through the democratic system. The group believes democracy subverts sharia by giving man the power to make law—a power ASL considers reserved to God alone. This belief separates ASL from other Islamist groups in Libya, including Libya Dawn, that support exploiting democracy in order to achieve implementation of sharia.Ahmed Maher, “Meeting Mohammad Ali Al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, September 18, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-19638582.

ASL’s hisba enforcement has included destroying Sufi shrines that the group considers idolatry. Al-Zahawi described removal of these shrines as “a religious duty” because “people worship the deceased and this is prohibited. It is not me who says so but rather our religion.” The group also confiscated anatomy books from the European School in Benghazi after deeming that they were “pornographic” in nature.Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Terrorist Threat in North Africa,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 10, 2013, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/testimony/ZelinTestimony20130710-v2.pdf. Similarly, in February 2015, gunmen from an “al-Qaeda inspired militia” seized radio and television stations in Sirte after ASL “warned the station to stop broadcasting music.”“Islamic Militants Seize Radio, TV Stations in Central Libya,” New York Times, February 14, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/02/14/world/middleeast/ap-ml-libya.html.

Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that ASL, as well as Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, likely emerged from the ideology of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who “has attempted to steer the jihadi community to a more ‘pure’ jihad” in order to offset the brutal image of jihad as popularized by deceased al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Maqdisi’s Disciples in Libya and Tunisia,” Foreign Policy, November 14, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/14/maqdisis-disciples-in-libya-and-tunisia/.

According to Zelin, al-Maqdisi has tried to draw a distinction between the idea of qital al-nikayya (fighting to hurt or damage the enemy) and qital al-tamkin (fighting to consolidate one’s power). Zelin writes that “the former provides only short-term tactical victories… whereas the latter provides a framework for consolidating an Islamic state.” According to Zelin, ASL’s practices appear to be in accord with qital al-tamkin.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Maqdisi’s Disciples in Libya and Tunisia,” Foreign Policy, November 14, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/14/maqdisis-disciples-in-libya-and-tunisia/.

Since the backlash following the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, ASL has rebranded itself with a new focus on missionary outreach, including offering services normally provided by local governments. ASL engages in road maintenance, street cleaning, security patrols, garbage collection, and establishing medical clinics and hospitals.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya’s Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/12/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi/. To promote religion, ASL runs Quranic competitions, provides food to the poor during the Muslim holidays of Eid and Ramadan, confiscates drugs and alcohol, and opens religious schools and centers. In the absence of a strong local government, the services ASL provides have become integral to daily life in Benghazi.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya’s Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/12/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi/. In media campaigns, ASL has highlighted its outreach and charity efforts, portraying themselves as defenders and promoters of Islam and sharia. Faisal Irshaid, "Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia," BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589.

Leadership Structure:

ASL is led by an emir. The group named Abu Khalid al Madani as its new leader on June 18, 2015, six months after the death of its previous leader.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya fights on under new leader,” Long War Journal, June 30, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/ansar-al-sharia-libya-fights-on-under-new-leader.php. Mohamed al-Zahawi was the group’s emir until January 2015, when he died from wounds sustained in an October 2014 airstrike.Nadia Radwan, “Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya Leader Dead,” AllAfrica, January 26, 2015, http://allafrica.com/stories/201501270208.html. Unlike many other jihadist groups, ASL’s leadership structure remains opaque to outside observers, with members of senior leadership, councils, and committees mostly unknown.Bill Roggio, “Ansar Al Sharia in Libya Releases Photos of Graduates from Its ‘mujahideen Training Camps,’” Long War Journal, March 15, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-releases-photos-of-graduates-from-its-mujahideen-training-camps.php.

ASL is based in Benghazi and operates branches in Derna, Sirte, and Ajdabiya.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya’s Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/12/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi/; Aya Elbrqawi, “Slow Death of Derna,” AllAfrica, February 28, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201403031054.html. ASL also operates a highly professional and organized media wing, al-Raya Media Productions Foundation.Library of Congress Federal Research Division, “Al-Qaeda in Libya: A Profile,” Federation of American Scientists, August 1, 2012, http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/aq-libya-loc.pdf.

Recruitment and Training:

Like many other jihadist organizations, ASL maintains a social media presence. The organization has established Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus accounts but they are regularly taken down by the administrators of those social media platforms.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php. In its social media messages, ASL often features its outreach and social service campaigns. Many recruits are drawn to the group by its charity work, preaching, and delivery of social services.Nadia Radwan, “Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia Intensifies Recruitment,” AllAfrica, November 15, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201311180744.html. The Long War Journal wrote in April 2015 that ASL operates a radio station in Benghazi and that on Twitter the group now utilizes a “‘correspondents’ or ‘reporters’ network”—a web of multiple accounts that promote ASL propaganda, similar to that used by the Nusra Front.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php.

ASL has embedded recruiters within foreign countries. In the past, recruiters have funneled Tunisian civilians who want to fight in Syria into Libyan training camps.Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Evidence on Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya Training Camps,” Al-Wasat, August 8, 2013, https://thewasat.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/new-evidence-on-ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-training-camps/. Within Libya, ASL has used monetary payments to recruit young fighters.Mawassi Lahcen, “Libya: Benghazi Rejects Islamist Violence,” AllAfrica, December 28, 2012, http://allafrica.com/stories/201212310264.html.

ASL actively hosts and trains extremists from other organizations in its own training bases in Libya. Since the start of the Syrian civil war, ASL has trained militants seeking to fight in Syria. In 2013, two Tunisian citizens who had trained in ASL camps were separately captured near Derna and interrogated. The first, who wanted to perform jihad in Syria, claimed that he trained in a camp for about 20 days alongside recruits with civilian backgrounds. The camp included weapons training but did not have religious education or schooling. The second fighter wanted to fight with the Free Syrian Army in Syria and claimed to have attended a month-long camp near Benghazi on guerilla tactics, ambushes, and booby-trapping.Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Evidence on Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya Training Camps,” Al-Wasat, August 8, 2013, https://thewasat.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/new-evidence-on-ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-training-camps/. ASL also operates camps near Derna and Jebel Akhdar to train fighters for Syria.“UN Blacklists Ansar Al-Sharia Armed Group,” Al Jazeera, November 20, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/11/un-blacklists-ansar-al-sharia-armed-group-2014112015146686102.html.

Beyond training fighters for export to Syria, ASL has also trained militants for North African groups. For example, half of the 24 militants involved in the January 2013 In Amenas, Algeria, gas complex attack had trained in ASL camps in Benghazi.Agence France-Presse, “UN Security Council Adds Libya's Ansar Al-Sharia to Terror List,” I24 News, November 20, 2014, http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/africa/51583-141120-un-security-council-adds-libya-s-ansar-al-sharia-to-terror-list.

Like other extremist groups, ASL maintains a social media presence. Twitter has banned ASL’s accounts but the group quickly replaces them. In a new strategy, ASL launched several new feeds at once in late March 2015.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya relaunches social media sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-site. The new accounts promote ASL propaganda, such photos of ASL’s civil and social services in Benghazi, information from the fight against Libyan forces, and clips from ASL’s Benghazi radio station, 96.9 FM.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya relaunches social media sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-site. For example, ASL used its Twitter accounts to praise its late leader Mohammed al Zahawi’s commitment to jihad.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya relaunches social media sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-site.

Financing:

According to a February 2013 report by the Daily Beast, in order to clamp down on drug dealers and crime in Benghazi, the Libyan government has provided “payments to Ansar al-Sharia militiamen… through other Benghazi brigades, including the 17th of February brigade, according to sources in… Libya’s new Parliament.”Jamie Dettmer, “Libyan Government Turns to Ansar Al-Sharia Militia for Crime-Fighting Help,” Daily Beast, February 26, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/25/libyan-government-turns-to-ansar-al-sharia-militia-for-crime-fighting-help.html. According to the report, the former chief of staff for Libya’s ground forces, Yousef Mangoush, was “diverting operational funds from the fledgling armed forces to the militia.”Jamie Dettmer, “Libyan Government Turns to Ansar Al-Sharia Militia for Crime-Fighting Help,” Daily Beast, February 26, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/25/libyan-government-turns-to-ansar-al-sharia-militia-for-crime-fighting-help.html.

ASL also reportedly receives donations from Libyan expatriates for the social services that it provides.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589.

Key Leaders

  • Abu Khalid al-Madani

    Leader of ASL
  • Mohamed al-Zahawi

    Mohamed al-Zahawi

    Leader of ASL, deceased
  • Abu Tamim al-Libi

    Senior sharia jurist
  • Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu

    Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu

    Leader of the Ansar al-Sharia branch in Derna - Defected to ISIS
  • Nasser al-Tarshani

    Head of ASL religious committee
  • Hani al-Mansuri

    Hani al-Mansuri

    Spokesman
  • Wissam Bin Hamid

    Wissam Bin Hamid

    Military commander in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

The U.S. State Department designated Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia in Derna as Foreign Terror Organizations on January 10, 2014. “Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm. The U.S. State Department designated Ahmed Abu Khattalah (ASL Benghazi) and “Abu Sufyan bin Qumu” (ASL Derna) as Specially Designated Global Terrorists pursuant to Executive Order 13224 on January 10, 2014.“Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar Al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/219519.htm.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

The United Nations designated Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia Derna to its list of “Entities and other groups and undertakings associated with Al Qaida” on November 19, 2014. Mirjam Donath, “U.N. Blacklists Libya's Ansar Al-Sharia, Involved in Benghazi Attack,” Reuters, November 19, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/19/us-libya-security-un-idUSKCN0J32KX20141119. New Zealand designated “Ansar Al Charia Benghazi” and “Ansar Al Charia Derna” as “Organisations associated with al Qaeda” on November 19, 2014. “Designated Individuals and Organisations,” New Zealand Police, March 16, 2015, https://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/designated-entities-16-03-2015.pdf.
Turkey listed ASL as a terrorist organization in November 2014.“Turkey Blacklists Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” Hurriyet Daily News, November 26, 2014, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-blacklists-libyas-ansar-al-sharia.aspx?pageID=238&nID=74841&NewsCatID=510. The United Kingdom designated Ansar al-Sharia-Benghazi as a terrorist organization in November 2014.“Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” U.K. Home Office, February 3, 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/400902/Proscription-20150123.pdf.

Associations

Ties to entities designated by the U.S. or foreign governments:

Al-Mulathamun (“The Masked Men”) Brigade
ASL has provided training to al-Mulathamun militants. Half of the 24 operatives involved in the January 2013 In Amenas, Algeria, gas complex attack trained in ASL camps in Benghazi.Agence France-Presse, “UN Security Council Adds Libya's Ansar Al-Sharia to Terror List,” I24 News, November 20, 2014, http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/africa/51583-141120-un-security-council-adds-libya-s-ansar-al-sharia-to-terror-list. French intelligence has also alleged that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, founder and leader of al-Mulathamun, met with ASL fighters in Ubari.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya's Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi.
Al-Qaeda Central
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond stated that both ASD and ASB “have links with Al Qaeda and are responsible for acts of terror in Libya, including bomb attacks, kidnappings, and murder.” In November 2014, the United Nations sanctioned ASL as an entity associated with al-Qaeda.Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Recognizes Ties between Ansar Al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php. Many members of ASL are personally connected to al-Qaeda, including former Guantanamo detainee and founder of ASD, Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu. Following the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, ASL called for the release of the al-Qaeda militant “by all possible means.”Nadia Radwan, “Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia Intensifies Recruitment,” AllAfrica, November 15, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201311180744.html. The emir of the organization, Mohamad al-Zahawi, has spoken favorably about al-Qaeda. Officially, however, ASL denies any connections to al-Qaeda.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
French intelligence believes that members of AQIM have traveled to Libya and met with ASL fighters in Ubari, southern Libya.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya's Jihadists Beyond Benghazi,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/libyas-jihadists-beyond-benghazi. The United Nations, in their designation of ASL as an entity associated with al-Qaeda, stated that ASL was also associated with AQIM and worked to train fighters traveling to Mali.Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Recognizes Ties between Ansar Al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php. AQIM frequently re-tweets tweets by official ASL Twitter accounts.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php.
Al-Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries
The Shura Council is made up of several brigades of anti-Gaddafi rebels, including ASL and Libya Shield.Reuters, “At least 19 dead in Benghazi in the latest clashes between Libyan soldiers and Islamist fighters,” Business Insider, June 11, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/r-latest-clashes-between-libyan-soldiers-islamists-in-benghazi-kill-19-medics-2015-7; “Guards die in attack on S Korea embassy in Libya,” Al Jazeera, April 12, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/guards-die-attack-korean-embassy-libya-150412090449233.html.
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST)
The United Nations, in its designation of ASL, noted that ASL has a support network among Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST).Agence France-Presse, “UN Security Council Adds Libya's Ansar Al-Sharia to Terror List,” I24 News, November 20, 2014, http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/africa/51583-141120-un-security-council-adds-libya-s-ansar-al-sharia-to-terror-list. Tunisian security officials have stated that logistical, financial, and operational ties exist between the two groups, and that ASL has sold weapons to AST.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589. Videos of Tunisians captured and interrogated by civilians in Libya suggest that members of AST are traveling into Libya to train with ASL. An anonymous founding member of AST commented in a 2013 interview that the relations between Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, AST, and ASL are like a “spider web.” Members of the three organizations met and traveled together in the Gaza Strip and in northern Sinai in 2012, meeting with Palestinian Salafists about administration, organization, and management.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Tunisia: Uncovering Ansar Al-Sharia,” Think Africa Press, October 25, 2013, http://thinkafricapress.com/tunisia/uncovering-ansar-al-sharia.
ISIS
After AQIM rejected ISIS in favor of a continued allegiance to al-Qaeda, ISIS looked to ASL as a possible partner in North Africa. In July 2014, jihadist militants associated with ISIS began posting statements on social media sites and jihadist forums hoping to push ASL to pledge allegiance to ISIS.Mawassi Lahcen, “Libya: ISIS Woos Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya,” AllAfrica, July 31, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201408010598.html. Although it seems that many in the group favor better relations with ISIS, especially the younger generation, ASL has not yet formally backed an alliance with ISIS. In its designation, the U.N. stated that ASL trained foreign fighters traveling to Syria in camps in Derna and Benghazi, but not necessarily to fight alongside ISIS.Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Recognizes Ties between Ansar Al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php. ISIS’s growing popularity in Libya has posed a major threat to ASL, and many Libyan members of ISIS are in fact defectors from ASL. ISIS’s recent wave of attacks across the country has captured international attention.Mark Willis, “Tripoli-allied Troops Begin Islamic State Assault,” Middle East Eye, February 18, 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/tripoli-allied-troops-begin-islamic-state-assault-1467960076. ISIS now controls the previously ASL-held cities of Sirte and Derna, but despite the loss, ASL has been able to maintain a presence in both cities.Laura Dean, “How Strong Is the Islamic State in Libya?,” USA Today, February 20, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/02/20/islamic-state-libya/23728623/; Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php. In mid-2014, cooperation between the two groups began to increase. After 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS in Libya, local media claimed that 35 more Egyptians had been captured by ISIS and ASL.Gianluca Mezzofiore, “Libya: More Egyptians ‘kidnapped by IS or Ansar Al-Sharia’ after Egypt Airstrikes,” International Business Times, February 16, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/libya-more-egyptians-kidnapped-by-ansar-al-sharia-after-egypt-airstrikes-1488216. Furthermore, ASL’s tactics shifted to recognize greater ISIS influence. In November 2014, ASL released a video, in the same style of ISIS beheading videos, showing the killing of a captured soldier who had allegedly fought under Libya’s General Haftar.Umberto Bacchi, “Isis Libyan Allies Behead General Khalifa Haftar’s Soldier in Shocking Video,” International Business Times, February 16, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-libyan-allies-behead-general-khalifa-haftars-soldier-shocking-video-1474650. In the summer of 2014, the leader of ASL’s Derna’s branch, Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu, became the first of ASL’s leadership to pledge allegiance to ISIS.Aya Elbrqawi, “Libya: Derna Cries for Help,” AllAfrica, December 1, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201412020345.html. In March 2015, ASL’s senior sharia official, Abu Abdullah al-Libi, swore allegiance to ISIS when he tweeted a photo of a book entitled The Legal Validity of Pledging Allegiance to the Islamic State. His pledge was accepted by the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the jurist subsequently broke from ASL, taking a group of fighters with him.Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar Al Sharia Libya Relaunches Social Media Sites,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/04/ansar-al-sharia-libya-relaunches-social-media-sites.php. Many feel that a pledge of allegiance from ASL to ISIS is imminent, and is likely to happen within the next couple of months.Jack Moore, “Spiritual Leader of Libya’s Biggest Jihadi Group Pledges Allegiance to ISIS,” Newsweek, April 8, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/top-judge-libyas-biggest-jihadi-group-pledges-allegiance-isis-320408.

Media Coverage

  • Benghazi Consulate Attack

    Within 24 hours of the consulate attack, news agencies began connecting Ansar al-Sharia to the assault. The BBC was one of the first networks to make...

Rhetoric

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ASL tweet, June 24, 2015

ASL does not “fight for this world nor for a certain position, glory, reputation, or admiration.” Instead, “we fight in defense of our religion, to establish the rule of God, and to follow the commands of our creator.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya fights on under new leader,” Long War Journal, June 30, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/ansar-al-sharia-libya-fights-on-under-new-leader.php.

Abu Khalid al Madani, emir, radio broadcast, June 18, 2015

ASL and the ummah will “not be able to cast off our humiliation unless we wage jihad.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya fights on under new leader,” Long War Journal, June 30, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/06/ansar-al-sharia-libya-fights-on-under-new-leader.php.

Captions on photos of ASL militants in a Benghazi training camp, March 19, 2015

“This is the latest class of the protectors of the Shariah and the opposers of injustice graduating from the mujahideen training camps to join their brothers in the battlefronts in order to complete the journey of jihad.”Bill Roggio, “Ansar al Sharia in Libya releases photos of graduates from its ‘mujahideen training camps,’” Long War Journal, March 19, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/ansar-al-sharia-in-libya-releases-photos-of-graduates-from-its-mujahideen-training-camps.php.

Abu Khalid al-Madani, future ASL leader, video statement, January 24, 2015

“Know that the curses of the mujahideen will come successively upon you like thunderbolts.”“Libya’s Islamists Ansar al-Sharia confirm leader’s death - monitoring,” Reuters, January 25, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/25/libya-security-islamists-idUSL6N0V40RE20150125.

Mohamed al-Zahawi, May 2014

“We remind America, if they intervene, of their defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, because they would face in Libya something much worse...It was America who urged Haftar to turn the country towards war and bloodshed.”Ayman Al-Warfalli, “Libyan Islamists to U.S.: Don't Interfere or Face Worse than Iraq,” Reuters, May 28, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/05/27/libya-violence-idINKBN0E72KX20140527.

Ahmed Abu Khattala, April 2014

“What is terrorism? Is what the Americans are doing in the world not terrorism? They have made themselves our enemy through their actions. If my enemy classifies me as such, it means nothing to me… We will never be at peace with the West, because Islam will always prevail… America and other countries are trying to impose their own ideologies and views here. They will divide Libya if they continue this.”Mary Fitzgerald, “A Conversation with Abu Khattala,” New Yorker, June 18, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/06/abu-khattala-before-his-capture.html.

Mohamed al-Zahawi, ASL Leader, September 2012

“Al-Qaeda's strategy is aimed at weakening US hegemony on the Muslim nation…[Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statements] are a wake-up call for Muslims. They help galvanise the Muslim nation, maintain its dignity and pride. Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri is keen on safeguarding Muslim rights.”Ahmed Maher, “Meeting Mohammad Ali Al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, September 18, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-19638582.

Mohamed al-Zahawi, September 2012

“Do you think that the killing of the US ambassador is more heinous than the several insults made about the Prophet, peace be upon him?... I swear by God that we can tolerate the killing of all people and wiping all countries off the map but we cannot tolerate a single swear word that could hurt our prophet…They are weeping buckets on this ambassador but they won't shed any tears when dozens of Muslims are injured in these protests against the blasphemous film.”Ahmed Maher, “Meeting Mohammad Ali Al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, September 18, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-19638582.

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