Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Archive for October 2014

BENGHAZI LIBYA – The Libyan National Army has entered the city in force to eject the Islamist Militias. (Updated 17th February 2017)

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By Wednesday 15th October 2014 large units of the Libyan National Army commanded by the Chief of Staff Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri and including Major General Hafter’s troops from Operation Dignity had entered Benghazi. As they did so they were joined by 204 Tank Brigade which had, until Wednesday, remained neutral in its barracks within thn the e city. It seems that the combined force has taken over the extensive barracks of the 17th February Brigade in the centre of the city. The 17th February Brigade has been an ally of the Islamist Ansar Sharia Brigade and Raafallah Al-Fahati Brigade which have dominated Benghazi for some considerable time.

Speaking on Sky News (Arabia) on 15th October the Libyan Prime Minister, Abdulla Al-Thinni, stated that the successful routing of Benghazi’s Islamist Militias which had combined under the banner of the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC) was ‘part of a plan, devised by the state and executed by the Chief of Staff Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri’. It is clear that this is the first attempt by the elected government of Libya to assert its control over Benghazi which has hitherto been dominated by Militias.

Reuters reports today that ‘Special forces commander Wanis Bukhamda told Reuters the area of the [Benina] airport was under full army control after Ansar al-Sharia – blamed by Washington for an assault on the former U.S. consulate in 2012 which killed the American ambassador – fled.’ There was still some fighting in the city according to sources but it seems that the Islamist forces may have been overwhelmed. Large numbers of Libyan National Army units were still entering the city on Thursday 16th October.

There are reports of Sudanese fighters amongst the Islamist militias some of whom may have entered Libya via Darfur and Kufra in the south east. Reliable eyewitness reports are awaited but it is interesting to note that Bernardino Leon, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, has stated that Isis jihadists are already present in the country and awaiting their opportunity. Major General Khalifa Hafter, the leader of Operation Dignity, has also indicated that his intelligence people have confirmed that there are numerous foreign jihadists present in Libya.

There were a number of air strikes in support of the Libyan National Army and it has been rumoured that they were carried out by the Egyptian Air Force. This has been denied by officials of both the Egyptian and the Libya governments. However a member of the House of Representatives for Benghazi has told the Associated Press that Egyptian warplanes were being used in raids over Benghazi but that they were being flown by Libyan pilots. In the last few weeks there have been a number of accurate air strikes on military targets in Libya and speculation about who carried them out is rife. The United Arab Emirates have been implicated in the past but its warplane would have needed logistical support and air to air refuelling to attack Libya targets. John Oakes 16th October 2014

Update 21st April 2016

This in the Libya Herald dated 20th April 2016 tell us that at long last Benghazi has been liberated;

Presidency Council congratulates Hafter-led army in Benghazi |

The Presidency Council has congratulated the Libyan National Army for eliminating the so-called Islamic State (IS) and allied militants in Benghazi. In a statement today, Wednesday, those fighting IS throughout the country were commended, but there was special mention of the military forces in Benghazi fighting against IS.

In the statement, the Presidency Council said that there had to be united efforts to fight IS across the country. It mentioned in particular Sabrath and the Sidra area. Presenting its condolences to the families of those murdered by IS in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna and elsewhere, the council praised those who had understood the threat and decided to stand up to IS. It encouraged others to do so, while at the same time urging the House of Representatives (HoR) to meet and approve the national unity government.

The statement pledged that the government would rebuild Benghazi and other places that suffered in the fight against the extremists. The military, too, would be supported in line with the Libyan Political Agreement, and the borders would be secured.

Update 28th January 2017

Despite the optimism expressed on 20th April 2016 the Islamist extremists held out in Benghazi supplied and supported by allies across the Gulf of Sirte in Misurata. In the meantime Khalifa Hafter has been promoted to Field Marshall and Bernardino Leon has been replaced by Martin Kobler as UN Special Representative. The return of relative peace in Benghazi has been emphasised by the welcome news that the international high street stores, Marks and Spencer, Next, Mango and Aldo are all in the process of reopening.

This appeared in the Libya Herald dated 27th January 2017:

‘White flags have been raised today in the remaining rebel-held buildings in the Busnaib area of Benghazi’s Ganfouda district following an attempted breakout by Islamist militants.

According to a Saiqa (Special forces) official, a convey of cars attempted to flee as the Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked what is known as “12 Buildings” in Busnaib at 6am this morning. Saiqa apparently killed three of the militants in the ensuing firefight which led to the remaining combatants retreating back to the area. Some, though, may have escaped.

During the fight, the LNA reportedly managed to seize eight buildings in the district and, according to an LNA official, to free some more people held captive by the militants. He confirmed that white flags had been seen in the remaining buildings, although it was unknown whether the militants or members of their families or any residual prisoners they might continue to hold were responsible.

However, clashes were still taking place, the official told the Libya Herald.

It had been claimed by the LNA that Busnaib was liberated ten days ago. Ganfouda was declared completely free two days ago when it was also announced that over the previous 48 hours the LNA had released some 60 women and children from the militants.

Last night, Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter congratulated his forces in an interview Hadath TV and praised those local residents who had joined the fight. He also paid tribute to those who had died in the battle for the city, adding that he would not rest until all those injured in the struggle were fully treated. There was a stark warning too for any remaining rebels: “Die or give up.”

The liberation of Ganfouda and the freeing of captives held by the militants has also been welcomed by UN special envoy Martin Kobler.’

Update 17th February 2017

NOTES FROM THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY SPOKESMAN COLONEL AHMED MISMARI DATED 16TH FEBRUARY 2017

Colonel Mismari has just suggested that the war in Benghazi is over after 33 months of fighting and around 4,000 Libyan National Army personal killed. He states that: “Only 70 terrorists remain in a block of 12 buildings in Ganfouda and a dozen square-kilometre zone downtown in Sabri and Suq Al-Hout.” He argues that the terrorists are now surrounded and unable to receive reinforcements and resupply. In order to save further damage, they will now be allowed to surrender or “kill themselves in attempted suicide attacks”.

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THE ISLAMIC CALIPHATE OF DERNA –OR HOW TO CREATE A LITTLE HELL ON EARTH

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In the Italian newspaper Republica, Bernardino Leon, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, has warned that Isis jihadists are already present in the country and awaiting their opportunity. He is quoted as saying; “If a real political dialogue does not start in Libya soon, there is only one thing that will be certain: the country will be an open field for Isis”.

East Libya’s Jebel Akhdar is a potential paradise on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. It has provided the rich pastures which sustained the aristocratic tribes of Libya and before them the five ancient Greek cities of Libya Pentapolis. The Greek cities were supported by a flourishing agriculture and a fruitful horticulture. The Greek colony was taken over by the Romans and given by Mark Anthony to Cleopatra the Great as a wedding present. The Byzantines ruled it a while but it became the homeland of the nine Saadi tribes of Arab descent from 1050 onwards interrupted only in 1938 by an influx of Italian colonist who were planted in the best agricultural land in the Jebel, pushing out the Arab tribes and earning the enmity of most Libyans ever since. The Italian colonists were evicted after the British and Commonwealth 8th Army destroyed Mussolini’s Italian empire in 1943. The Italians expanded the small port of Derna situated on coast and surrounded by the lush highlands of the Jebel to promote trade between its Italian colonists in the Jebel and nearby Crete and Cyprus. Gaddafi neglected Derna and it became a hot bed of Islamist opposition to his regime. It sent a number of Islamist recruits to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and later to support Al Qaeda in its confrontation with the USA. Its geographical isolation restrained its prosperity but protected it from invasion. Nowadays its most notable export is militant Islam.

Today, barring an unforeseen accident, Derna is the lair an Islamist warlord called Sufian Ben Qumu. Ben Qumu’s ‘private’ militia amalgamated with two other radical Islamist armed groups, the Army of the Islamic State of Libya and the Derna branch of Ansar Sharia, to form the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth. There are strong elements within this amalgamated group which have ties to Al Qaida. The Shoura Council of Islamic Youth has gained a reputation for violence and militancy. It has carried out at least two public executions in the Deana which have been condemned by Amnesty International. This from the Libya Herald dated 20th August 2014; ‘The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has killed an Egyptian man it accused of murder in what is reportedly the second public execution carried out by the group in the town…….[A resident] said the execution took place at a football ground in western Derna. He added that the execution began at around 5 pm, just after Asr prayers. The execution was the second such public killing in Derna. On 27 July, Islamic Youth put to death two men, one Egyptian and another Libyan, for an alleged murder. This most recent killing has received wide-spread attention after a video of the proceedings was uploaded to the internet. The veracity of the video has been confirmed and shows one man, apparently Ahmed, killed by a single gunshot to the head. He is surrounded by around 40 members of the Islamic Youth most of whom carry Kalashnikov rifles and wear face masks and military fatigues of one kind or another. One member holds the black flag of Al-Qaeda at the centre of proceedings. There are a large number of spectators present in the stands at the football ground but they cannot be seen in the video. The execution is met with the sounds of chanting and applause.’

However, there is another very powerful Islamist militia in Derna. It is the Abu Saleem Martyrs’ Brigade which is said to hold the balance of power in the town. There have been turf wars between the Abu Saleem Martyr’s and ‘Islamic Youth’. Here is part of a report carried in the Libya herald on 23rd September 2014; ‘At least six members of rival Derna Islamist brigades were killed in fighting on Sunday as tensions flared between the town’s Abu Saleem Martyrs’ Brigade and the Islamic Youth in Derna. The town today appears to have returned to what has become normality there for more than a year. Over the past twelve months, its radical Islamist brigades have effectively closed the local council, taken control of the court building and liquidated whatever remnants of the town’s security forces remained. Four members of Abu Saleem Martyrs’ brigade, one Islamic Youth in Derna militiaman along with a civilian perished in the clashes which began on Sunday evening and continued into the early hours of yesterday the morning, Bowabat Al-Wasat reported.’

There have been reports of an Al Qaeda training camp in Derna for some time. Intelligence from Sebha in Libya’s south suggest that there is a constant flow of recruits from the Sahara and Sahel countries passing through on their way to Derna for training and on their way back to stiffen Al Qaeda units in their own countries. On 27th September 2014 this appeared in the British Daily Telegraph; ‘A former UK resident once arrested and detained but then freed by the British authorities has been identified by the US government as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, The Telegraph can disclose. Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a father-of-four from Manchester, was able to leave Britain to join a terrorist network run by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda. Last week, Azzouz was named officially by the US State Department as one of just ten “Specially Designated Global Terrorists”. Azzouz, 48, an expert bomb-maker, is now accused of running an al-Qaeda network in eastern Libya…… Azzouz allegedly runs a training camp in Darnah in eastern Libya.’

It is hard to see how the ordinary residents of Derna will benefit from this manifestation of extreme Islamism.

Update 7th October 2014

Some reports are suggesting that the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (ISIS).