After days of intense fighting against Libyan government forces, Ansar al Sharia and its allies have seized an important special forces base in Benghazi.
Ansar al Sharia, which is notorious for its role in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Mission and Annex, is fighting under the umbrella of the “Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council.” The council, an alliance of multiple groups, released a statement today saying that the base, known as Camp Thunderbolt, had fallen to its forces. The news was confirmed by a Libyan army official, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).
On its official Twitter feed, Ansar al Sharia has posted a video of its leader in Benghazi, Mohammad Ali al Zahawi, discussing his group’s “victory.” (The video can be viewed at the beginning of this article.) The group also posted photos of the weapons, or “booty,” it has taken into possession, as well as scenes from the assault on the base.
Ansar al Sharia says the capture of the base is a defeat for General Khalifa Hiftar, who launched a campaign, named “Operation Dignity,” against Islamist and jihadist militants in Benghazi in May. AFP notes that the Libyan special forces that operated the camp “are one of the units of Libya’s regular armed forces that support” Hiftar, “but have not placed themselves under his command.”
In the video posted by Ansar al Sharia, Zahawi portrays the clash as a struggle against Hiftar’s forces, while also offering to welcome defectors from the Libyan army.
“Naturally, first and foremost, we are here specifically in the city of Benghazi and in Libya generally for this conquest and victory to eliminate the biggest den of what is called Operation Dignity,” Zahawi says.
Zahawi portrays Hiftar’s campaign as enabling the West to operate in Libya, but claims that the Libyan people are rejecting this effort. The “people of Benghazi and the youth of Benghazi, due to their keenness and protection of this city, all answered the call and the journey continues,” Zahawi says.
Zahawi says that “whoever returns” to Ansar al Sharia’s ideology will be forgiven for opposing the group and for previously adhering to a version of Islam the group disapproves of. “Even the members of the Special Forces and even Abu Khamada, whoever returns and renounces his misguidance, we have no problem with him,” Zahawi claims. Abu Khamada is the special forces colonel who withdrew his forces from the base after coming under heavy fire and sustaining casualties.
The photos below were posted on Ansar al Sharia’s official Twitter feed and show the weapons seized at the base, as well as scenes from the assault on the compound.