Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked group in Libya, has released a six-minute long video showing its spoils won during a recent battle against forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar. The group claims to have captured tanks and heavy armaments during a Dec. 26 raid on one of Haftar’s camps.
Images of armored vehicles and weapons captured during the jihadists’ operations have become commonplace. But the new video includes scenes of two Ansar al Sharia leaders, both of whom are particularly noteworthy.
The first is Wissam Ben Hamid, a jihadist who was a key figure in the security failures surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi Libya.
“By Allah’s grace, today our heroes have achieved victories…they took these tanks and machines as booty from them and killed the soldiers of tyranny that were here at this axis,” Ben Hamid says while standing standing in front of vehicles captured from Haftar’s camp.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 2012 attack in Benghazi, Ben Hamid admitted during press interviews that he was on the scene but did not intervene. Ben Hamid traveled to the airport in Benghazi, where he reportedly met an American security team that was dispatched from Tripoli to provide assistance during the assault on the US Mission and Annex. The security team was mysteriously delayed at the airport for three and a half hours. It is not known if Ben Hamid played a role in the delays.
Ben Hamid also met with State Department officials on Sept. 9, 2012 to discuss security in Benghazi. Ben Hamid portrayed himself as a key security official during the meeting.
Ben Hamid has appeared in a number of Ansar al Sharia videos and photos since earlier this year. Ansar al Sharia fighters were among the coalition of al Qaeda jihadists who overran the US Mission and Annex, killing four Americans in the process.
Ben Hamid’s close relationship with Ansar al Sharia raises new questions about his role on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Ben Hamid is a military commander in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an alliance of jihadist groups led by Ansar al Sharia.
[For more on Ben Hamid, the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, and Ansar al Sharia, see LWJ reports: Ansar al Sharia ally a key figure in Benghazi security failures and Ansar al Sharia video features jihadist once thought to be US ally in Benghazi.]
Another speaker in the video is identified as the “mujahid brother” Mohammed al Darsi.
“With Allah almighty’s grace, these tanks were taken as booty from the apostates and the tyrants,” al Darsi says. “And we tell them, with Allah’s permission, we have brought to you youths who have a zeal for death as you have a zeal for life.”
Al Darsi goes on to promise that the “infidels” will be defeated in Libya. “We will purge this land, with Allah’s permission, from your desecration until the flag of [monotheism] flutters throughout Libya and until the law of Allah rules this land. The days stand between us, remember this phrase, and you will see with Allah, almighty’s, permission.”
The video does not explain who al Darsi is, but he appears to be the same jihadist who was exchanged for a Jordanian ambassador earlier this year.
On April 15, Fawaz al Etan, Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, was kidnapped at gunpoint in Tripoli. Just one week later, Jordan released a jihadist named Mohammed al Darsi from prison. Etan was subsequently freed and returned home in May.
Al Darsi was detained in 2006 and charged with plotting to attack Western tourists at the Queen Alia International Airport. In April 2007, along with four of his alleged co-conspirators, al Darsi was sentenced to life in prison by a Jordanian court. A sixth defendant had his sentence commuted to 15 years.
A leaked State Department cable, dated Apr. 26, 2007, recounts details from the sentencing proceeding. As the verdicts were read out loud, according to the cable, the defendants yelled “God is great.” They continued:: “We’re not afraid of your judgment – we won’t surrender. Our holy battle will continue until martyrdom.”
Some of the convicted jihadists “allegedly told authorities that Al Qaeda in Iraq wanted to claim responsibility for the foiled attack,” the US Embassy in Amman reported.
In its Country Reports on Terrorism for both 2006 and 2007, the State Department referred to al Darsi’s plot against the Queen Alia International Airport as being “al Qaeda-linked.” The 2007 report adds that “hotels in Aqaba and the Dead Sea” were also going to be targeted.
Still more details were reported by The New York Times in a piece, “Militants Widen Reach as Terror Seeps Out of Iraq,” which was published on May 28, 2007.
Al Darsi was imprisoned in Libya for “militant activities,” but he was released in early 2006. According to the Times, al Darsi “had one goal: killing Americans in Iraq.” Al Darsi contacted an online recruiter, who arranged to meet him in Damascus, Syria. But instead of waging jihad in Iraq, al Darsi was repurposed to take part in the plot in Jordan.
“A team of militants from Iraq had traveled to Jordan, where they were preparing attacks on Americans and Jews, [al] Darsi said the recruiter told him,” according to the Times. (The State Department has said the cell included “Iraqi, Libyan, and Saudi suspects.”) The recruiter asked al Darsi if he would join the jihadists and “blow himself up in a crowd of tourists at Queen Alia Airport in Amman.” Al Darsi confessed to Jordanian authorities that he agreed to the suicide operation.
Like the leaked State Department cable, the Times account includes quotes from the 2007 sentencing hearing in Jordan. The Times attributes its quotes directly to Al Darsi. “God is great!” al Darsi first shouted. And then, as he was about to be led away, al Darsi said, “I came here to fight against Zionists and occupiers.”
The Long War Journal cannot independently verify that the Mohammed al Darsi shown in the Ansar al Sharia video is the same man exchanged for the Jordanian ambassador, but it appears to be the same jihadist. The video footage of al Darsi shows a man who looks very similar to the jihadist convicted in 2007 and ultimately released.
Therefore, the latest Ansar al Sharia video underscores the longstanding ties between North Africa and the jihad in Iraq. Both al Darsi and Ben Hamid have ties to Iraq. Ben Hamid reportedly fought in Iraq, presumably for al Qaeda, before returning to Libya to take part in the revolution.
*Oren Adaki, an Arabic language specialist and research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contributed to this article.