Ansar al-Sharia (Benghazi)

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Ansar al-Sharia
كتيبة أنصار الشريعة
Participant in Libyan civil war and Post-civil war violence in Libya
Ansar al-Sharia Libya Logo.jpg
Logo of Ansar al-Sharia
Active 2011–present[1]
Ideology Islamism
Salafist Jihadism
Leaders Muhammad al-Zahawi
Area of
operations
Benghazi[2]
Other cities in Eastern Libya [3]
Strength 300–5,000[4]
Originated as February 17th Martyrs Brigade
Allies Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade
AQIM
Opponents Al-Saiqa (Libya)
Battles
and wars
Battle of Sirte

Ansar al-Sharia (English: Partisans of Sharia) is an Islamist militia group that advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law. Ansar al-Sharia came into being during the Libyan Civil War. The organization has deliberately targeted both Libyan and American civilians and took part in the 2012 Benghazi attack. Several news sources have labeled them as a terrorist organization.[5]

Background[edit]

Ansar al-Sharia was formed during the Libyan Civil War and rose to prominence after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Made up of former rebels from the Abu Obayda Bin Aljarah Brigade, Malik Brigade and February 17th Martyrs Brigade and many more,[4] the Salafist militia initially made their name by posting videos of themselves fighting in the Battle of Sirte.[6]

Their first major public appearance occurred on 7 June 2012, when they led a rally of as many as 200 pickup trucks mounted with artillery[7] along Benghazi’s Tahrir Square and demanded the imposition of Sharia law.[8] According to the New York Times, "Western diplomats who watched said they were stunned by the scale and weaponry of the display."[7]

The leader of Ansar al-Sharia, Sheikh Muhammad al-Zahawi, later gave an interview on a local TV station forbidding participation in Libya’s first post-civil war parliamentary elections on the grounds that they were un-Islamic.[9] The militia went on to provide security to some public property in eastern Libya, including Benghazi's Al Jala Hospital.[6] The group is reportedly the military arm of Al-Dawa wa Al-Islah, a charitable organization.[10]

Noman Benotman, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and analyst of Libyan Islamism claims that Ansar al Sharia is less an organization than a term applied to an amorphous coalition of Islamist and Salafist groups active in eastern Libya.[11] The logo of the Ansar al-Sharia is a pair of AK-47 assault rifles, a clenched fist with one finger pointed up, an open Koran, and a black flag.[12]

Activities[edit]

Fawzi Bukatef, the leader in Benghazi of the rival Islamist militia February 17 Martyrs Brigade, claimed that members of the organisation had been responsible for the assassination of Abdul Fatah Younis, the commander of rebel forces during the Libyan civil war.[13]

Ansar al-Sharia carried out destruction of Sufi shrines in Benghazi, which they regarded as idolatrous.[14] In November 2011, Libyan Salafis engaged in a series of attacks on Sufi shrines all over the country.[15] Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the president of the General National Congress (GNC) denounced the shrine attacks as "disgraceful acts" and said "those involved were criminals who would be pursued."[15]

Ansar al-Sharia used its online presence to denounce the 2013 capture and removal from Libya of al-Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Libi, by American military forces.[16]

2012 U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi[edit]

On September 11, 2012, the United States Department of State Operations Center advised the White House Situation Room and other U.S. security units that Ansar al-Sharia was claiming responsibility for the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that had just occurred.[17] Witnesses said they saw vehicles with the group's logo at the scene of the assault and that fighters there acknowledged at the time that they belonged to Ansar al-Sharia.[13] Witnesses also said they saw Ahmed Abu Khattala, a commander of Ansar al-Sharia, leading the embassy attack, a claim Mr. Khattala denied.[18] According to longwarjournal.org, the group issued a statement asserting that it "didn't participate as a sole entity" and that the attack "was a spontaneous popular uprising" to the film trailer Innocence of Muslims, widely condemned as anti-Islamic.[19]

As of 6 August 2013, U.S. officials confirmed that Ahmed Abu Khattala (Khattalah), Libyan leader of Ansar al-Sharia, has been charged with playing a significant role in last year's attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. According to NBC, the charges were filed under seal in Washington, D.C. in late July.[5] Khattalah was arrested by U.S. Delta Force special operations personnel in a raid on Libya on 15 June 2014.[20][21] He is being transported to the United States aboard the USS New York aircraft carrier and is expected to face trial in a U.S. criminal court.[22]

Temporary withdrawal and resurgence[edit]

On 21 September 2012, after massive anti-militia protests in Benghazi which largely blamed Ansar al-Sharia for the mission attack, hundreds of protesters stormed the militia headquarters, pulled down flags of the militia and torched a vehicle inside the base.[23] The group was forced out of its bases in Benghazi the next day.[24]

A few hours after the attack, Martyrs of February 17, together with Bou Salim Martyrs brigade, allegedly agreed to disband,[25] however about 150-200 militiamen moved from Benghazi to Jebel Akhdar area.[26]

As of December 2012, the group still existed, although it had adopted a low-key position.[27] By March 2013, the group had returned to Benghazi and began patrolling hospitals and manning checkpoints, as well as providing humanitarian services to residents.[28] By late 2013, the group had opened up a branch in Derna, under the slogan "A step toward building the Islamic state".[29] The group also has a presence in the Libyan cities of Ajdabiya and Sirte.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Libya militia linked to U.S. attack returns to Benghazi". Reuters. 17 February 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack". Al Jazeera English. 10 January 2014. Retrieved 10 January 20143. 
  3. ^ a b Mohamed Eljarh (20 January 2014). "There's No Room for Democracy in Libya's Extremist Hub". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Maggie Michael & Hamza Hendawi (18 September 2012). "A Benghazi power, Libya militia eyed in attack". Associated Press. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "US charges Libyan with role in deadly attack on Benghazi consulate". NBC News. 6 August 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Who are Libya's Ansar al-Sharia?". France24. 14 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Kilpatrick, David (29 December 2013). "Deadly Mix, Chapter 1, A Rising Militia Leader". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "Benghazi Islamist rally angers locals". Libya Herald. 9 June 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Wrath of Libya's Salafis". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  10. ^ Dominique Soguel (18 September 2012). "Attack on Americans jolts Libya to act on militias". Daily Star. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  11. ^ "Pro-al Qaeda group seen behind deadly Benghazi attack". CNN. 13 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  12. ^ "What is Ansar al Sharia, and was it behind the consulate attack in Benghazi?". CNN. 16 November 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, David D. (15 September 2012). "Attack by Fringe Group Highlights the Problem of Libya's Militias". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Meeting Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar al-Sharia". BBC. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Ward, Sharron (12 September 2012). "The Battle of the Shrines". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Nadia Radhwan (13 November 2013). "Ansar al-Sharia intensifies recruitment". Magharebia. Retrieved 5 March 2014. 
  17. ^ "White House told of militant claim two hours after Libya attack: emails". Reuters. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  18. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (17 October 2012). "Libya Singles Out Islamist as a Commander in Consulate Attack, Libyans Say". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Ansar al Shariah issues statement on US Consulate assault in Libya". Long War Journal. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "US seizes Benghazi raid 'ringleader' Ahmed Abu Khattala". BBC News. 17 June 2014. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  21. ^ "Elite Delta Force Commandos Capture Ahmed Abu Khattala in Midnight Benghazi Raid". Yahoo! News UK & Ireland. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  22. ^ "Benghazi Suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala Could be in U.S. by Week's End". NBC News. 23 June 2014. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  23. ^ "Protesters storm main Islamist militia HQ in Libya's Benghazi". Reuters. 21 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  24. ^ "Libyan Islamist militia swept out of Benghazi bases". Reuters. 22 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "Clinton praises Libya for its move to rein in militias". CNN. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  26. ^ Chris Stephen (9 October 2012). "Libyan army blockades Islamist militia suspected of killing US ambassador". London: Guardian. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  27. ^ "Ansar Al-Sharia denies any link with Benghazi assassinations". Libya Herald. 20 December 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  28. ^ "Ansar al-Sharia returns to Benghazi". Magharebia. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  29. ^ Aya Elbrqawi (28 February 2014). "Slow death of Derna". Magharebia. Retrieved 1 March 2014.