North Africa Theater

Libya: Sufis under attack —again

With Islamist-led militia in nearly complete control of the Libyan capital, the historic Othman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli's Old City was vandalized Oct. 11 by a crowd of gunmen. The door to the madrassa was smashed, books and Korans stolen, and the tree in the center of the courtyard chopped down, in "an act of apparent sheer vindictiveness." The madrassa was apparently targeted because it has for many years been a Sufi institution. It had been similarly attacked two years ago, with graves from its cemetery dug up and the remains removed. Also Oct. 11, gunmen attempted to invade the Darghouth Mosque across a narrow street from the madrassa, but were prevented by armed locals. (Libya Herald, Oct. 12)

Benghazi: youth activists slain in 'Black Friday'

Benghazi is in a "state of shock" after at least nine well-known civil rights activists and army officers were assassinated in the eastern port city on Sept. 19, dubbed by local media "Black Friday." Four are said to have survived the assassinations, which targeted at least 13 people. The Unidentified gunmen killed a four current and former senior army officers, as well as two popular youth activists and bloggers, Tawfik Bensaud and Sami Elkawafi—aged 18 and 17. Days earlier, Bensaud had said in an interview with Huffington Post: "A military movement alone can’t solve the crisis; there must a civil movement that works parallel to it. If youth are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution. My message to Libya's youth is, you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act." (Middle East Eye, IBT, Libyan Youth Voices, Sept. 20)

AQIM renegades pledge fealty to ISIS

A new armed group calling itself the "Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria" has split from al-Qaeda's North African framchise and sworn loyalty to ISIS. In a communique released Sept. 14, a regional commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he has from the group, accusing it of "deviating from the true path." Seeming to address ISIS "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander, Gouri Abdelmalek AKA Khaled Abu Suleimane, wrote, "You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you." The newly created "Caliphate Soldiers" or "Jound al Khilafa fi Ard al Jazayer" is the second group to break with AQIM and pledge loyalty to ISIS, the first one being Mokhtar Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in Blood," which observers say is now likely based in southern Libya. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Sept. 15)

Libya: 'war crimes' seen in spiraling militia attacks

Libyan militia forces battling for control of Tripoli and surrounding areas have engaged in attacks on civilians and civilian property that in some cases amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 8. Thousands of residents fled their homes during five weeks of fighting between the Libyan Dawn alliance, led by militias from the coastal city of Misrata, and a coalition of militias from the inland mountain town of Zintan. Human Rights Watch has documened a series of attacks by Libyan Dawn forces on civilians and civilian property since they took control of Tripoli, beginning with its civilian airport, on Aug. 24. "Commanders on both sides need to rein in their forces and end the cycle of abuses or risk being first in line for possible sanctions and international prosecution," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. 

Sudan arming Libyan Dawn rebels?

The Libyan government—now exiled to the eastern city of Tobruk—expelled the Sudanese military attaché on Sept. 6, charging that a Sudanese military transport loaded with munitions illegally entered Libyan airspace bound for Tripoli's Mitiga airport. The weapons were discovered when the plane stopped to refuel at the southern oasis town of Kufra, and were presumably intended for the Islamist-led Libyran Dawn rebels that are now in control of Tripoli. "Sudan is interposing itself by providing arms to a terrorist group that is attacking the headquarters of the state," said a government statement. "This also represents a clear violation of international resolutions, and the latest UN Security Council resolution." Sudan confirmed sending the plane but insisted the weapons were intended for legitimate border forces patrolling the southern desert. "The plane did not carry any material for armed groups in Libya," Sudan's army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid told the local TV channel Shouruq. (The Guardian, Sept. 7; Libya Herald, Sept. 6)

Libyan Dawn rebels in control of Tripoli

Libyan government forces and helicopters belonging to renegade general Khalifa Haftar bombed ammunition sites of suspected Islamist militants in Benghazi on Sept. 4. Fighting in the two main cities Tripoli and Benghazi has now displaced 100,000 people. (Reuters, Sept. 4) The Islamist-led Libyan Dawn rebels have effective control of Tripoli, and on Sept. 1 raided the evacuated US embassy compound. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 1) A delegation from Libya's House of Representatives has failed in repeated bids to broker a cease-fire with the Libyan Dawn coalition. Libya's parliament has taken refuge in the eastern city of Tobruk, having been displaced from both Tripoli and Benghazi. (Libya Herald, Sept. 9) Libya's Grand Mufit Sadiq al-Ghariani is accused by the parliament of backing "terrorists." The country’s recently appointed prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni urged lawmakers to remove Ghariani after he broadcast several sermons online in support of the Dawn coalition and other Islamist-aligned militias. (The Economist, Sept. 3)

Libya: who bombed Tripoli?

Unidentified warplanes carried out air-strikes on a small arms depot and other targets controlled by Islamist militias in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Aug. 18. At least six were killed in the strikes. The strikes were beyond the capacity of the limited Libyan Air Force, and Libyan authorities said the planes had come from a foreign state. The US, France, Italy and Egypt all denied responsibility. Also hit in the raid were camps along the road to Tripoli's airport, which is contested by rival militias. Another target was Tripoli's Mitiga air base, also controlled by Islamists. At least 100 have been killed in fighting in Tripoli over the past month. (NYTXinhua, Aug. 19)

Libya parliament votes for foreign intervention

Libya's parliament on Aug. 13 passed a measure calling for foreign intervention to protect civilians from deadly clashes between rival militia groups. MPs were meeting in the eastern city of Tobruk because of violence in the capital Tripoli and the second city Benghazi. The resolution, which passed by 111 out of 124, calls on the "United Nations and the Security Council to immediately intervene to protect civilians and state institutions in Libya." The body also voted to formally disband Libya's militia brigades left over from the 2011 revolution that have yet to be incorporated into a regular army. Fighting between the rival Zintan and Misrata militias for control of Tripoli's airport left over 200 dead last month. (AFP, Aug. 14; BBC News, Aug. 13) Libya's caretaker prime minister, Abdullah Thinni, meanwhile issued a statement assuring that all of the country's oil ports are still under the "control" of the central authorities—a clear sign of fears that they aren't. (Libya Herald, Aug. 14) On the day before the parliament vote, Col. Mohamed al-Suwaisi, head of the Tripoli Security Directorate, was assassinated while his car waited at an intersection after leaving a meeting with police commanders in Tajoura, a suburb of the capital. (Libya Herald, Middle East Eye, Aug. 12)

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