A Tripoli imam who was detained in September by the city’s Special Deterrence Force (SDF) for promoting extremism, has been released on Sunday.
Abd al-Razegh Amshayreb, the imam of Tripoli’s Bin Nabi mosque, was arrested on 10 September for allegedly giving sermons calling for extremist ideology. It was understood that he was released after militias from Tripoli’s eastern suburb of Tajoura threatened to use force to free “all the rebels” – euphemism for Islamist militants - who are being detained in an SDF run prison located inside Mitiqa airport.
Bashir al-Bograh and other militia commanders from Tajoura were said to have warned Abd al-Rouf Karah, SDF’s leader, that they will attack the prison if he does not free the inmates by the end of the week. They also demanded the transfer of all Mitiqa inmates to Ayn Zarah prison.
In the absence of proper state security agencies, the SDF, a militia, has been acting as the main security apparatus in Tripoli tackling a wide range of issues including crime, migration and counterterrorism as well as safeguarding the offices of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Since last year Tripoli has been witnessing an ideological cold war between the SDF and a group of anti-GNA militias in which the former is labelled as the military arm of the Quietist Salafism movement and the latter is representing the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
It’s unlikely that the threat against the prison will materialize, but if it does, it wouldn’t be the first time. On 18 September 2015, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack by a group of its Inghimasis (suicide fighters) who managed to storm the main gate in a failed attempt to liberate fellow militants.
SDF’s move seems to be triggered by three factors: First, the approaching of 17 December, the date that LIFG militias – and other GNA opponents - believe would mark the end of GNA’s mandate which they hope to seize by reviving their own government. And by releasing the cleric, the SDF sought to defuse such threat. Second, the Tajourans may have wished to emulate the success achieved by Mufti supporters in Misrata – also labelled as LIFG – who used the tactic of threatening against an allegedly Salafist militia to secure the release of Abrayek al-Masriya. Third, the ruling against Ansar al-Sharia’s Ahmed Abu Khattala which supporters of jihadi groups such as the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and Ansar al-Sharia mistook as a full acquittal. The ruling has been used by BRSC supporters on social media to argue that those detained in Mitiqa are merely rebels and freedom fighters and not terrorists as the SDF suggests.