Mohamed Niss

Mohamed Niss

Still on the Loose: Libya’s Most Dangerous Jihadists - Part II
Friday, August 17, 2018

More violence?

Tripoli Braces for Hurricane Igtet
More violence?
ibrahim jathran ismail sallabi

Ibrahim Jathran spent the months leading up to last week’s attack on Libya’s oil ports in Bani Walid, a well-informed source has told The Libya Times.

The only official record of Jathran’s previous whereabouts was a letter from Libya’s Attorney General dated 14 May 2017 instructing local authorities of the western border town of Nalut to extradite him to Tripoli to face charges of ordering the three-year blockade of Libya’s oil terminals. It was suggested at the time that Jathran had been arrested by a militia in Nalut while trying to cross the border to Tunisia.

How did he manage to leave Nalut safely to Bani Walid remains unknown, however, our source has confirmed that Jathran was hosted in Bani Walid by a local political activist named Jamaa’h al-Mezoughy. “On Thursday [21 June] there has been unusually increased activities outside Mezoughy’s house. Many people and cars were coming and going,” said the source.

We also learned that Jathran’s link to Bani Walid did not end there.

We can reveal that Jathran’s Chadian mercenaries -of whom dozens were captured in the oil ports by the Libyan National Army (LNA) - were based in a barracks located to the south of Bani Walid led by Abd al-Hakim Shaftar who was arrested recently by Tripoli’s Special Deterrence Force (SDF) for allegedly plotting a military coup against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Both our source and the SDF have linked Shaftar to the so-called Popular Front for the Salvation of Libya, a political group said to be linked to Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi. “When local fighters from Bani Walid said on Thursday that they have set up checkpoints to prevent Jathran from fleeing to their city; they wanted in fact to prevent the Chadians from returning to Shaftar’s barracks after their presence there was exposed,” said the source.

Al-Sdadah Barracks

Sitting adjacent to ruins of a historic castle in the unpopulated desert area of Sdadah which is located some 100 kilometres to the east of Bani Walid, it has become Jathran’s main base after his fighters and those of ‘Benghazi Defence Brigades’ (BDB) were kicked out of Misrata. Before that it was occupied by the ’28-May battalion’, an Islamist militia formed in 2011 in Bani Walid led by a local LIFG jihadist named Ambarak Saleh al-Fotmani (aka Bin Laden).

Bin Laden was briefly appointed head of Bani Walid’s Local Council by the National Transitional Council in 2012 before his removal by the locals who remain loyal to the old regime. Two of his sons were killed fighting for the Islamic State: Hassan was killed fighting alongside the Islamic State’s affiliate in Sirte and the second, known only by the jihadi alias Qadhwar al-Libi, died fighting for the terror group’s Syrian branch.

Bin Laden’s two sons killed fighting alongside Islamic State affiliates in Sirte and Syria. Photos: Facebook

When Bin Laden’s militia was later disbanded, he was banned from entering Bani Walid spending most of his time in Misrata before resurfacing in late 2016 when his named was linked to BDB forces stationed at the Sdadah barracks.

It did not take long for the barracks to become home to Libya’s bad boys attracting most of the armed groups deemed unwanted in their own cities. These included Ansar al-Sharia members from Misrata, Sabratha, Benghazi and Darnah in addition to Jathran and BDB forces. Reliable sources have told this website that over 100 armed vehicle belonging to Jathran and BDB were spotted late Thursday night retreating from the oil ports to Sdadah in separate small convoys with the headlights turned off.

Map showing the route taken by BDB and Jathran forces retreating to Sdadah.

Al-Qaeda Connection & Maskirovka

In addition to the already known evidence linking the BDB to local al-Qaeda offshoots, the US Africa Command has issued a statement on 14 June 2018 which said: “In coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), U.S. forces conducted a precision airstrike against al-Qa' ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) approximately 50 miles southeast of Bani Walid, Libya, killing one terrorist, on June 13, 2018.” This supports reports on a growing al-Qaeda presence in and around Sdadah.

The timing of last week’s attack on the oil ports was another sign of al-Qaeda’s involvement. It was designed to prevent the LNA from concluding its military operation against Darnah’s mujahedeen, another group with known links to al-Qaeda.

What was particularly alarming -and more effective- in last week’s attack is the sophisticated use of military deception by applying a type of Russian maskirovka built around a meticulously-crafted disinformation campaign. The killer component of which was presenting the attack as a peaceful return of Jathran’s Maghrarbah tribal fighters to their hometowns in the oil crescent region. There were no statements from the BDB; not even individual social media posts that could be used to link the BDB to the attack. Ibrahim Jathran and his spokesman were the only ones allowed to speak publicly about the attack by appearing in videos reciting carefully scripted statements. Its wording was designed to sow discord and division within Jathran’s Magharbha tribe; Khalifa’s Hifter’s main ally in the oil crescent region.

BDB leader Ismail Sallabi, who masterminded the attack, has bargained on making Jathran as the attackers’ figurehead hoping that his tribal links would discourage resistance. However, the disinformation campaign was not perfect. Mourning the death of Ahmed Tajouri, the prominent BDB leader who was killed on the first day of the attack, was a clear sign on BDB’s involvement. And so were BDB documents found in vehicles seized from the attackers.

What is most worrying about Sdadah is the risk that at least some of the irredeemable souls who are currently based there might eventually join Islamic State groups operating in nearby desert areas.