North Africa Theater
Authorities in Mali said July 31 that a once-powerful jihadist leader has been arrested by French military forces in the northern desert town of Gao. Yoro Ould Daha was a commander of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which controlled Gao for nearly a year before the French intervention of 2013. Ould Daha was the MUJAO commander who announced the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali. He also took responsibility for the abduction of five humanitarian workers who were later released. (AP, July 31)
A fire from fuel tanks near Tripoli's international airport set ablaze by rocket strikes is out of control as clashes between rival militias continue in the area, Libya's National Oil Company reports. Six million liters of fuel were set ablaze by a rocket late on July 27, with a second depot hit the following day, darkening the city's sky. "The situation is very dangerous after a second fire broke out at another petroleum depot," the statement said, warning of a "disaster with unforeseeable consequences." The Libyan government appealed for "international help" fighting the blaze amid heavy fighting that the government says has killed more than 150 people in Tripoli and Benghazi during two weeks of fighting. (Al Jazeera, July 29) Fighting continued July 28, the first day of Eid al-Fitr, with bombs and explosions heard across Benghazi. (Libya Herald, July 28)
Gunmen killed at least 20 Egyptian military border guards near the frontier with Libya in a July 19 raid. An army spokesman said the attackers were "terrorists"—the term Egyptian authorities use for Islamist militants. A weapons storage facility was reportedly blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade during the attack, which took place in Wadi al-Gadid governorate, bordering Libya and Sudan. At least two militants were reportedly killed in the clash. (Radio Australia, July 20) The attack comes three weeks after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi flew to Algiers for a meeting with his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Commentators in the region say the meeting was intended to coordinate support for Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who has launched a unilateral offensive on Islamist militants in Benghazi. (Middle East Monitor, June 27)
Tripoli's airport has been severely damaged and several commercial planes destroyed in heavy fighting between armed groups, prompting the United Nations to pull its staff out of Libya. A coalition of Islamist militias under the banner of Operation Fajr, or Dawn, is apparently attempting to wrest control of the facility from the Zintani militias stationed there. At least 15 people have been killed in clashes in Tripoli and Benghazi in the past three dfays. (Reuters, July 15; Libya Herald, July 13) Meanwhile, Islamist militant Faraj al-Shibli, named by the US as a suspect in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, was found dead in the eastern town of Marj, where he had reportedly been detained by a local militia over the weekend. Al-Shibli, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had been detained by government forces last year, and was apparently interrogated by the FBI—before being released without explanation. He had been wanted by the Qaddafi regime in connection with the murder of a German intelligence agent in Sirte in 1994. Libyan authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden in connection with the crime. (CNN, July 14)
Moroccan women protested outside parliament June 24, waving banners and frying pans, and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. The protest came days after Benkirane gave a speech urging women to stay at home and not work jobs. "Don't you realize that when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes?" he said. "We will continue to defend our position against this modernity that is trying to eliminate family in our lives by reversing the roles of men and women. To that we say 'no!'" Since 2011, the Morocco has had a gender equality guarantee under the constitution, but it has never been fully implemented. Women in the country have periodically protested over the last few years to pressure the conversative government on the question. (Feministing, June 25)
Ahmed Abu Khatallah (BBC profile) made his first appearance on June 28 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia where he pleaded not guilty to a federal terrorism offense arising from his alleged participation in the September 2012 attack on a US facility in Benghazi, Libya. Khatallah was indicted by a federal grand jury on the charge of "conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, knowing and intending that these would be used in preparation for and in carrying out a killing in the course of an attack on a federal facility, and the offense resulted in death." The attacks occurred on September 11 through September 12, 2012, and resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The investigation into Khatallah's involvement is ongoing and the Department of Justice may bring additional charges as the case continues. "Now that Ahmed Abu Khatallah as arrived in the United States, he will face the full weight of our justice system," said US Attorney General Eric Holder. "We will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant's alleged role in the attack that killed four brave Americans in Benghazi."
Libyan women's rights activist and attorney Salwa Bughaigis was assassinated June 25 by five gunmen who broke into her home in Benghazi's Hawari district and shot her in the head. Her husband, Essam al-Ghariani, recently elected to Benghazi's Municipal Council, is missing, and presumed kidnapped. A gardener was also shot and wounded in the attack. Bughaigis had just returned home after voting in Libya's second general election since the 2011 revolution, and posted pictures on her Facebook page of herself casting her vote. She was also on local TV earlier in the day, speaking about ongoing clashes in the city, which she said she could see from her house. She urged people to go out and vote in spite of the violence.
US military forces conducted a secret operation in Libya June 15, capturing Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the alleged mastermind behind the September 2012 attacks on US facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans including US Ambassador Chris Stevens. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm John Kirby released a statement June 17 saying, "There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all US personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya." According to the US State Department, Abu Khatallah is a senior leader in Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia [BBC backgrounder]. According to the BBC, he has been charged in a federal court in Washington, DC, with killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility, providing material support to terrorists and weapons charges.