The international media, in particular CNN has focused a great deal of attention to the city of Derna in Eastern Libya, making headlines about being under the control of the Islamic State. In fact, Derna has long been in the hands of the Islamic State through local proxies. Officially, there have been denials about Derna’s affiliation to IS, but for weeks rumors have been circulating about the possible fall of Derna. IS flags have been spotted in many parts of the city. The denials and rumors were finally set aside when the Foreign Minister affiliated to the House of Representatives recognized in the French media that IS was already active there.
Derna has long been a bastion of support to IS, so the global media’s news about it is really not news. Derna is the home of the first self-declared Islamic Emirate with direct ties to IS. A center of radical Islam, Derna has always been the source of resistance, in particular during the Gaddafi era. It was one of the very first regions to rise up against Muamar Gaddafi.
A radical Islamist movement took shape their under the leadership of a former Gitmo detainee and one of the founders of Ansar Al Sharia, Soufiane Ben Qoumou. Ben Qoumou is often described as the head of Al Qaeda in Eastern Libya. Prior to the appearance of IS, an envoy was dispatched some time ago to Libya by Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to build a support system for his organization, which is said to be now the source of sympathizers for the Islamic State instead.
More recently, another Libyan militant group known as Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) took to the streets of Derna on October 5 to voice their support to the Islamic State. They held banners that said “The caliphate following the Prophetic way”, and called on local residents to join their cause. IS combatants in Libya and Tunisia are estimated to be 5,000.
Perhaps the direct link to IS is a group called Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam composed of former Libyan fighters who fought in Syria and Iraq, a group that is now calling the shots in Derna, aided by other home-grown brigades.
The Derna affiliation to IS is not new. It only highlights how late such critical information might reach relevant decision makers who can influence outcome.