Ansar al-Sharia (Libya)
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|كتيبة أنصار الشريعة
(Ansar al-Sharia Battalion)
Partisans of Shari'a
|Participant in Libyan civil war and 2011–present Libyan factional fighting|
Logo of Ansar al-Sharia
|Eastern Libya (Cirenaica)|
|Originated as||February 17 Brigade|
|Allies||Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Sirte|
Ansar al-Sharia was formed during the Libyan civil war and rose to prominence after the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi. Made up of former rebels from the Abu Obayda Bin Aljarah Brigade, Malik Brigade and February 17 Brigade and many more, the Salafist militia initially made their name by posting videos of themselves fighting in the Battle of Sirte. Their first major public appearance occurred on 7 June 2012, when they led a rally of armed vehicles along Benghazi’s Tahrir Square and demanded the imposition of Sharia from which they were later the same day chased out by local residents. Its leader, Sheikh Muhammad al-Zawawi, later gave an interview on a local TV station forbidding participation in the July 7 GNC elections on the grounds that they were un-Islamic. The militia went on to provide security to some public property in eastern Libya, including Benghazi's Al Jala Hospital. The group is reportedly the military arm of a charitable organization named Al-Dawa wa Al-Islah.
Noman Benotman, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and analyst of Libyan Islamism claims that Ansar al Sharia is less an organisation than a term applied to an amorphous coalition of Islamist and Salafist groups active in eastern Libya. CNN reports that Ansar al Sharia is more a label than an organization, one that's been adopted by conservative Salafist groups across the Arab world. The name means, simply, "Partisans of Islamic Law." Their logo is a pair of AK-47s, a clenched fist, and an open Koran.
Fawzi Bukatef, the leader in Benghazi of the rival Islamist militia February 17 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.
Ansar al-Sharia carried out destruction of Sufi shrines in Benghazi, which they regarded as idolatrous. In November 2011, Libyan Salafis engaged in a series of attacks on Sufi shrines all over the country. “On August 25 Ansar al-Sharia even deployed an excavator to destroy the Sidi Al-Sha’ab Mosque (which contained the tomb of a Sufi saint) in the center of Tripoli…” 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.”
2012 U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi
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. 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. Witnesses also said they saw Ahmed Abu Khattala, a commander of Ansar al-Sharia, leading the embassy attack, a claim Mr. Khattala denied. 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 an anti-Islam film.
On 21 September 2012, after massive anti-militia protests in Benghazi which largely blamed Ansar al-Sharia for the attack, hundreds of protesters stormed the militia headquarters, pulled down flags of the militia and torched a vehicle inside the base. Afterwards, crowds swelled to several thousand strong and breached into Ansar al-Sharia military base where militants retreated before the civilians got to the base and led a pro ansar sharia peaceful protest. Another compound was taken later that night. Elements of Libyan National Army and Libyan police came to the support of the civilians the rioters later took over control of the bases of different brigades such as Martyrs of 17 February and The first Libyan Shield.[not in citation given]
A few hours after the attack, Martyrs of February 17, together with Bou Salim Martyrs brigade, allegedly agreed to disband, however about 150-200 militiamen moved from Benghazi to Jebel Akhdar area.
As of December 2012, the group still existed, although it had adopted a low-key position. By March 2013, the group had returned to Benghazi and began patrolling hospitals and manning checkpoints, as well as providing humanitarian services to residents.
As of 6 August 2013, U.S. officials confirmed that Ahmed Abu Khattala (Khattalah), Libyan leader 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. Authorities have not said whether he has been arrested in Libya.
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- "Clinton praises Libya for its move to rein in militias - CNN.com". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Chris Stephen in Tripoli. "Libyan army blockades Islamist militia suspected of killing US ambassador | World news". theguardian.com. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- Ansar Al-Sharia denies any link with Benghazi assassinations Libya Herald, 20 December 2012
- "Ansar al-Sharia returns to Benghazi". Magharebia. Retrieved 2013-11-14.
- "US charges Libyan with role in deadly attack on Benghazi consulate - Investigations". Investigations.nbcnews.com. 2012-09-11. Retrieved 2013-11-14.