More than one year after a US ambassador and three other Americans were killed during a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the city remains plagued by violence. Ansar al Sharia Libya, the al Qaeda-linked group that took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, has been involved in heavy fighting against Libyan special forces and residents.
On Monday, Nov. 25, the Libyan government said that nine people have been killed in the recent fighting in Benghazi thus far, with up to another 50 people being wounded. Citing a “senior Libyan military official” in Benghazi, CNN reports that the Ansar al Sharia fighters are heavily armed, “using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades” and other weapons.
The crisis prompted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to make a second trip to Benghazi since the beginning of the month, the Libya Herald reports.
Elsewhere, in Derna, a convoy of Ansar al Sharia fighters was “blocked” from leaving the town. The fighters were reportedly headed to Benghazi as reinforcements.
Separately, an Ansar al Sharia representative from Derna blasted the Libyan government during a phone interview that was aired on Libya Al-Ahrar TV and summarized by the Libya Herald. The representative, Mahmoud al Barassi, said Ansar al Sharia would “fight people who seek democracy, secularism, and the French,” as well as anyone who opposes the group. Al Barassi labeled members of the Libyan government “apostates” and claimed that Prime Minister Zeidan knows “knowing nothing about Islam.”
In Ajdabiya, about 150 kilometers south of Benghazi, some Ansar al Sharia members were reportedly ejected from the city.
Shortly before the latest outbreak of violence in Benghazi, on Nov. 23, Ansar al Sharia released a statement condemning Western influence inside the Libya.
“If the West leaves [the country] and it does what it wants, then it will be independent and will have achieved its identity,” the statement reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. “If the country stops before that and kneels before [the West], then it is still submitting to the West and one of its agents rules in it.”
The group’s statement compared the current government to Muammar Gaddafi’s deposed regime. “The current situation, without exception, is no more than the replacement of one oppressor with another, of one agent with another,” SITE’s translation reads. “The clear measure for the country’s independence and for the removal of corruption is its rule by God’s law.”
Part of the al Qaeda network
Across the border in Tunisia, the government is also battling Ansar al Sharia’s forces. Tunisian officials have claimed that Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is closely linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Tunisian authorities have even claimed that they have discovered a handwritten allegiance pact between the head of Ansar al Sharia, Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyadh al Tunisi), and AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel.
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s leaders responded to the government’s allegations in September by confirming that the group has been loyal to al Qaeda since its inception. The group claimed, however, to maintain organizational independence. This claim is contradicted by other evidence. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia responds to Tunisian government.]
In October, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Libya and Tunisia are in league with AQIM. “There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia [Tunisia], al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya,” Larayedh said. “We are coordinating with our neighbors over that.”
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia orchestrated the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012, just three days after members of Ansar al Sharia Libya took part in the Benghazi attack.
The Long War Journal has documented a wealth of evidence tying the Ansar al Sharia chapters to al Qaeda. [See, for example, LWJ report, Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa.]