The threat of ISIS in Misrata been bolstered after reports of a local group calling itself ‘Mujahedeen Misrata’, announced loyalty or ‘Baya’ to the international group in an audio message. Although the message itself was removed from the internet, the group claimed responsibility for a number of attacks previously in the city. While there is as of yet no confirmation of the bona fides of this group, the threat of a real ISIS emergence in Misrata is likely to escalate, especially if the political divisions regarding the GNA escalate in the city.
The local council of Sabratha issued a strong statement rejecting sensational claims made by a new Libyan satellite TV channel (218) that ISIS is in ‘‘control’’ of its city. They, demanded a formal apology from the channel to the residents of Sabratha and threatened legal action. The council also invited the channel to report live from within the city so as to visit key locations and to verify these assertions for themselves.
The video report aired by channel 218, and broadcast Thursday 24 December, claimed that IS was widely spread within the city, that it controls the police station, and that it has carried out military operations such as blowing up the intelligence headquarters. It also said that the organization is in control of the Tileel Youth Camp and that IS is using this camp to train 160 followers of whom 30 are Tunisians.
While pockets of Ansar al Sharia and LFIG militants reportedly exist in the region, (some with suspected links to members within the council itself), the exaggeration in the report was evident. Social media accounts from Sabratha published videos of the alleged ISIS-run training facility, showing very orderly police training taking place under the security directorate of the council.
The BRSC issued a new statement superficially rebuffing ISIS for their publication of a poster identifying the BRSC logo as that of their ‘enemies’. However, while the statement denounces ISIS ‘labelling and slandering’ of the BRSC forces as supporters of oppression (a reference to Haftar and the HoR), it actually appears more intended to bridge the rift between BRSC and ISIS, rather than to foment a break with ISIS. This development shows how ISIS clever use symbols and propaganda is able to manipulate non-IS jihadis to sympathize with, rather than be alienated from, ISIS rhetoric.
The conflict in nearby Ajdabiya has reduced in tempo from the previous week, but LNA airstrikes continue to target locations of local Islamist militias in Ajdabiya (the Ajdabiya Revolutionary Shura Council – ARSC), resulting in the deaths of three Sudanese migrants and a local Libyan army officer by mistake.
After the UN envoy issued a statement of concern about the clashes in Ajdabiya, noting that the killing of civilians is a war-crime, LNA units have backed off. Tribal meetings are also taking place and gatherings throughout last week of key tribal elders have managed to reduce some tension already.
Saleh Latiwesh, top leader of the Maghareba tribe requested the battle theatre to take place outside the city, with security in the city to remain the mandate of the local security directorate. The interim government of the HoR also allocated 12 million Libyan Dinars to implement a security plan for the city of Ajdabiya.
The ARSC are beginning to establish a media platform akin to other non state actors in Libya like Ansar Al Sharia, and the Benghazi and Derna Shura councils. Recent publications include photo galleries of the collateral damage by LNA airstrikes.
Also in Ajdabiya, sources close to Ansar al-Sharia Libya reported the death of one of its leaders, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Oraibi (AKA “Abu-Abdullah”) in the fighting between LNA units and Ansar.
The DMSC issued a new statement on the 23 Dec address to the scholars and ulema of Libya, (possibly, indirectly to Sheikh Sadeq Al Ghariani and the GNC-affiliated Islamist factions), declaring complete support for any dialogue or government in Libya so long as legislation is based solely on Sharia.
The statement goes on to say that the DMSC is not party to the ongoing conflict in Libya, and that the flames of civil war can only be ended by the scholars and protectors of Sharia in the country, demanding that they do their duty to prevent a divergence from the course of the February 17 revolution.
The statement is interesting and coincides with the new GNA government enshrined by a UN Security Council resolution of the same day. It may represent a hidden warning to Islamist factions in the country to accept a national unity government on this condition so as to prevent the proliferation of IS, especially their re-emergence in Derna. The statement also indicates that the DMSC forces are possibly shifting away from the Al-Qaida influence and can be of use as part of the Anti-ISIS coalition, to which we now turn.