North Africa Theater
The ISIS franchise in Libya, the self-declared "Islamic State in Cyrenaica," was largely driven from the eastern city of Derna last week, although fighting continues in one neighborhood that remains under ISIS control. The offensive against ISIS is apparently being led by the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, linked to the local Mujahedeen Shura Council, one of the more radical elements in the Libyan Dawn coalition. Confusingly, one of the militias allied with with the Abu Salim brigade is named as Ansar al-Sharia, which had previously been described as an ISIS affiliate. The fighting erupted on June 9 after ISIS militants assassinated Nasser Aker (also rendered Nasir Atiyah al-Akar), a senior figure in the Shura Council. The battle seems to represent a struggle between jihadists loyal to ISIS and al-Qaeda. In any case, it represents a jihadist enclave opening in Libya's east, heretofore under control of the secular-leaning "official" government now based in Tobruk, the next major town to the east of Derna. (See map) (AFP, June 21; IBT, June 15; Long War Journal, June 14)
US warplanes on June 14 carried out air-strikes on a farm outside Ajdabiya, Libya, killing several leading members of the Ansar al-Sharia militant network. Among those reported killed is Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar AKA "Khaled Abou El Abbas" or "Laaouar," former leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Details of the attack were reported by authorities of Libya's "official" government in Tobruk, who said they had been consulted before the raid. Washington only confirmed a raid against a "mid-level al-Qaeda operative in Libya," without giving any names or exact location. After the air-strikes, there was apparently an attempt to bring the wounded into town for treatment at the hospital, but it was met with stiff resistance both from local reaidents and troops from the Libya army's 151 Battalion. The targeted farm reportedly served as a base for a mixed force of jihadists from Ansar al-Sharia, ISIS and the Ajdabiya Shura Council. (Libya Herald, AFP, June 14)
For months, Libya has been divided between the Islamist-led Libyan Dawn coalition that controls Tripoli and the west, and the more secular "official" government now exiled to Tobruk in the east. But with ISIS seizing territory, it is now turning into a three-sided war. Heavy fighting is reported as the "official" Libyan National Army's Brigade 309 has launched an offensive to take the port of Mreisa from ISIS fighters. (Libya Herald, June 13) Meanwhile, the Majlis al-Shura militia, aligned with the Libyan Dawn movement, is fighting ISIS for control of Derna. One June 13, a presumed ISIS suicide bomber killed three when he blew himself up on a Derna street. (Reuters, June 13) The day before, seven Derna residents were shot dead when militants fired on a protest against the ISIS occupation of the city. (Reuters, June 12)
The Stockholm-based International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER) reported June 7 that 86 Eritrean Christians—including 12 women and several children—were abducted by presumed ISIS militants outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The ICER's Meron Estefanos said that the Christians were migrants, the majority from city of Adi Keih, and were trying to make their way to Europe. They were taken in a dawn raid on June 3 while travelling in a truck towards Tripoli. According to Estefanos, witnesses said those travelling in the vehicle were divided by their religion, and six Muslims were released by the captors. "IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims," she told IBTimesUK. "But you have to know the Koran, and they didn't." Three Christians allegedly managed to escape, though it is not clear if their whereabouts are known. Said Estafanos: "We are trying to get them to a safe place, but there is no safe place in Libya."
ISIS forces are in control of most of Moammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, and this week sucessfully repulsed an effort to retake the town by the Misrata-based 166 Brigade, which is aligned with the Libya Dawn rebel coalition that holds power in Tripoli. The 166 Brigade was reportedly pushed to the west after launching an attack on Nufaliya, and ISIS-held town on the outskirts of Sirte. ISIS claims to have taken 166 Brigade camps south and east of Sirte, and posted photos of what it says is seized equipment.
Mali's government is boasting a deal with Tuareg leaders signed May 15 in the capital Bamako that grants autonomous powers to the northern homeland of Azawad. But the "Algiers Accord"—named for Algeria-brokered negotiations—was not signed by the main rebel factions. Two leaders of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) signed, but not the body as a whole. The pro-Bamako militia known as the Tuareg Self-Defense Group of Imghad and Allies (GATIA) also signed. But the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and allied High Council for the Unity of Azawad boycotted the ceremony. Also absent were the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), Coordination for the People of Azawad (CPA), and Coordination of Movements and Fronts of Patriotic Resistance (CM-SAF).
Refugees and migrants crossing through Libya face human rights abuses including torture and rape, Amnesty International (AI) reported May 10. The report asserts that foreign nationals in Libya are subject to alarming rates of rape, torture and abduction, causing many to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea trying to escape. AI also noted that a recent upsurge in xenophobia has caused some of the abuses against religious minorities, especially Christians, who are subject to exploitation, abuse and unlawful killings by armed groups enforcing a harsh version of Islamic law. To ameliorate the situation, AI called for the re-opening of neighboring borders and challenged the EU to investigate the human rights abuses, in addition to the search and rescue operations to which they have already committed themselves.
Amnesty International (AI) claimed Feb. 23 that the Egyptian military failed to take adequate precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties in an attack on the Libyan city of Derna last week. The airstrikes occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, and AI argues that indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, such as this attack by the Egyptian military, amount to war crimes. The AI article cites eyewitness testimonies from local residents who claim there are no military targets near the largely residential area of Sheiha al-Gharbiya, where two missiles were fired resulting in the deaths of seven civilians. Additionally, Sheiha al-Gharbiya is located near the city's university. The international community is largely restricted to eyewitness accounts of missile attacks within urban areas of Libya due to the hostile conditions for journalists in the country. The Egyptian airstrikes were executed in retaliation for the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians [by presumed ISIS militants]. AI urges the Egyptian military and all warring parties in Libya to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to ensure that their forces do not carry out direct attacks on civilians or attacks which are indiscriminate or disproportionate.