Online chats by Islamic State operatives indicate that the terror group is not only still alive in Libya, but is plotting a military takeover of a major city in the country’s eastern part.
Online chats seen by this website show that Islamic State operatives have been discussing making “a surprise move” on Libya’s eastern city of Ajdabiya by May 2018.
The alarming information came from a prominent Islamic State operative as he sought to assure fellow jihadis about the group’s wellbeing in the war-torn North African nation. The operative, whom we would refer to here as “Abu Taha”, is a prolific poster on social media websites. After a yearlong monitoring of his online activities, we established that he is an Egyptian national who was among a group of Islamic State fighters that fled Darnah in April 2015. It remains unclear however, why unlike the rest of his group, he ended up in Ajdabiya instead of Sirte.
Abu Taha’s claims come after a series of attacks attributed to the Islamic State targeting military positions near the city. The most recent of which was Friday’s suicide car-bomb attack on the 60-KM checkpoint to the south of the city. The Islamic State has officially taken credit for the attack, claiming that it had destroyed 4 military vehicles, adding that it was carried out by Abd al-Hameed al-Muhajir [Eng: the immigrant].
Which brings us neatly to other worrying, and possibly-related developments. And that is the sudden rise in the number of “illegal migrants” arriving from Egypt to Ajdabiya. Just this week, two groups of freshly arrived Egyptian “migrants” have been arrested by local security forces in al-Bidhan, a small village to the east of the city. The migrants told local security officials that they have been dropped there by people-traffickers who brought them from Tobruk via a desert route. It is worth noting that all members of both groups were men in their 20s and 30s. Is it possible that following the Egyptian army’s recent campaign against the Islamic State in Sinai, the terror group has decided to relocate its fighters from Sinai to Libya? Although we don’t have evidence to back such hypothesis, the sequence of these events is indeed interesting.
Its obvious strategic location and closeness to major oil facilities aside, there are 3 reasons as to why the Islamic State is taking a special interest in Ajdabiya.
First, logistic flexibility thanks to local former rebels who joined Ansar al-Sharia’s local Shura Council before declaring allegiance to the Islamic State. Chief among them is Mohammed al-Zuway (also known as Tamtam) who joined the Islamic State in Sirte with a group of his fighters and later became the commander of the city’s southern axis during the US-led campaign that drove the terror group out of its North African capital in December 2016. Zuway’s fate is still unknown amid reports on his death during the Sirte campaign and others claiming that he is still alive.
Second, the large amounts of weapons and ammunition stockpiled over the last few years in positions around the city by different armed groups. The largest of which belong to Al-Saadi al-Nawfaly, the prominent jihadist who was arrested in Misrata in November 2017. Abu Taha has at least once mentioned Nawfali’s “secret warehouses” and the need to take hold of them.
Third, the city’s unstable tribal dynamics due to divisions within its dominant tribe, al-Magharbah, which were caused by the war between Ibrahim Jathran, a member of that tribe, and Khalifa Hifter, the General Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) which ended with the latter seizing control of the Oil Crescent Region- Magharbah’s heartland.
Tight security measures, including “reconnaissance drone sorties”, that are currently being imposed in the city by LNA forces, suggest that Marshal Hifter is seeing recent developments there as challenge to LNA’s grip on the city. On Monday LNA’s media department released photos (below) showing the marshal meeting notables and leaders of the Magharbah tribe.