The Islamic State (IS) of Abu Bakr Baghdadi in Iraq and Syria is still winning over supporters in Derna. A second forum was held in the town this week at which local militants belonging to the Shura Council of the Youth of Islam in Derna pledged their allegiance to Baghdadi and his Islamic State. The forum, that was well publicised in advance through posters and leaflets that were plastered all over the town, was presided over by Saudi militant Abu Habib Al-Jerzawi.
Al-Jerzawi, who is alleged to have links to Abdelhakim Belhaj, the head of the Al-Watan party and former Emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was reportedly sent to Derna from Syria in September by the Islamic State in order to accept allegiance on Baghdadi’s behalf. It is Al-Jerzwai who is believed to be behind the recent establishment of a local guard that is now policing the town.
It is clear, therefore, that IS has now established itself firmly in Derna. For all that there are rival militant forces in the town such as the Abu Slim Martyrs’ brigade that have refused to pledge allegiance to IS, it seems that those loyal to Baghdadi are increasingly taking control of the town that has long been a no go area for the Libyan authorities. Whether these IS-linked elements will extend their reach to other towns and areas has yet to be seen. The most obvious place would be Sirte that has become another key base for militant elements.