July 24-August 1st 2017: LNA and DMSC Clashes Escalate Aerial Assaults

Aug 2, 2017 | Other Jihadi Actors

On 26 July, Libyan National Army (LNA) Special Operations forces posted pictures of a captured Ansar al-Sharia senior leader, Ibrahim Abu Nawwara. Although Nawwara was reportedly captured in western Libya near Khoms, local sources say that Khoms and Misratan forces affiliated with anti-ISIS Salafists facilitated his handover to Benghazi as part of the ongoing political rapprochement between Misrata and the LNA.

Meanwhile in Benghazi, LNA forces continue to fight with jihadis in the final block of flats in al-Khribish district in the city centre–despite the city being declared ‘liberated’ by the LNA in early July. LNA fighters reported that the remaining jihadist fighters were observed to be wearing explosive vests. The conflict areas remain littered with sewage, landmines, IEDs and booby traps. On 28 July, a mother and her 2 daughters were injured when a landmine explode in the Busnaib area of Benghazi.

On 22 and 23 July, the Libyan National Army (LNA) conducted airstrikes against Derna Muhajadeen Shura Council (DMSC) positions near Derna. In retaliation on 29 July, the DMSC shot down an LNA MiG-23 fighter jet seizing both the pilot and the co-pilot prisoner when they parachuted into al- Dahr al-Hamar area. The DMSC announced that one of the pilots, Adel Jehani, had died from his injuries, while the LNA and many other local sources claim that the pilot was actually executed by the DMSC (allegedly by Muath al-Tashani).

In response, Brigadier Salem al-Rifadi, Commander of the LNA’s Omar al-Mukhtar operation room, announced a return to full blown siege, and shut down all routes into Derna—preventing food, medicine or fuel from entering the city. On 30 July, the DMSC attempted to break the blockade but failed, allowing the LNA to reclaim the Kassarat area east of Derna. The DMSC offensive started at dawn with the DMSC militants attacking three LNA positions – al-Kassarat, Madrassat al- Ardam, and Hajjaj al-Hila – around the town. Five LNA fighters were killed and 4 were injured in the battle, while the DMSC said it lost one fighter, Feras al-Zinni, who is alleged to have been a member of Ansar al-Sharia.

The latest escalation is estimated to be the result of a tightening military and social noose around the DMSC. Local sources allege that the DMSC has already ‘forgiven’ many ISIS captives it had in its custody and have gone as far as to recruit them into the DMSC ranks.

On 26 July, the LNA counter terrorism forces positioned in Karsah beach, west of Derna, arrested former ISIS member, Anis Abdul Qader al-Sharkasi, as he was attempting to leave the city with his parents. Sharkasi, who lives in Wadi al-Naga area in Derna, was a former aide to Sofian Ben Qumu, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Derna who supposedly fled the city some time ago.