As political constellations are being reformed across Libya, the gap separating ISIS from non-ISIS jihadis are closing as both are finding common ground in their anti-Haftar and anti-Western aims.
The gap separating BRSC (as a political faction fighting Haftar in Benghazi) from IS and Ansar Al Sharia (as terrorist outfits), has long been acknowledged even in the UN’s officialese which does not consider the BRSC as a terrorist group. However, this week these distinctions are fading. Ghariyani’s statements mentioned in this week’s ISIS in Action post and the BRSC suicide bombing against LNA fighters on 2 August in Guwarsha, Benghazi are closing the gap and driving the BRSC to coordinate with ISIS.
As such, Benghazi is witnessing an escalation of suicide attacks as the LNA makes more territorial gains in its south district tightening the noose around extremist militants there. 18 LNA soldiers were killed on 2 August and more than 20 others were injured in a suicide vehicle attack in Guwarsha district, long used as the HQ for the coalition of Islamist extremists including IS, Ansar Al Sharia, and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). The attack came after LNA forced managed to advance and retake Guwarsha Gate on 1 August; Benghazi’s main west gate, and a strategic position for jihadists.
The suicide attack intensified political controversy and polarisation when the official BRSC media arm (Al Saraya) claimed the attacker as one of its own fighters; a Libyan jihadist from Benghazi. The Guwarsha gate itself, taken only the day before, was painted with the ISIS symbol, refuting the BRSC supporters position that BRSC is unaffiliated to ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Then, the Presidential Council’s handling of its response on 3 August, first attributing the attack to ISIS, then backtracking and issuing a new, nameless statement, significantly escalated political tensions. The PC’s handling of the affair was seen as a cover-up for terrorism, provoking heated reactions from anti-GNA politicians and demonstrations in Tubruq and Benghazi on 5 August, calling for an end to the Presidential Council and firing of the UN envoy, Kobler.
In Derna, two separate offensives by the Derna mujahedeen fighters (DMSC) against LNA killed 12 soldiers. The assault came after LNA airstrikes allegedly targeted two DMSC positions in the city on 2 August.