Qatar-backed jihadist group in Libya disbands

Sunday 02/07/2017
New realities. A March 2017 file picture shows Benghazi Defence Brigades leader Mustafa al-Sharksi holding a news conference. (Reuters)

Tunis- The Benghazi Defence Bri­gades (BDB), whose fight­ers occupied Libya’s key oil terminals in March, said it was disbanding to prevent “foreign military occupa­tion” of Libya.
The BDB is a jihadist faction said to be funded by Qatar.
Ismail Sallabi, a Benghazi-based radical Islamist figure, was identi­fied as one of “the most prominent” BDB leaders when the group was formed in 2016.
Sallabi was arrested during Lib­yan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime and accused of plotting to topple the government. He was released with the help of Qatar in 2004 when Qaddafi enjoyed good ties with Doha.
Sallabi fought in Afghanistan against Soviet forces in the 1980s and was a leader in the al-Qaeda-aligned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which was declared a terrorist group by the United Na­tions and the United States.
Following the 2011 uprising against Qaddafi, Sallabi led the Feb­ruary 17th Martyrs Brigade, one of several groups that reportedly re­ceived Qatari financial aid and arms.
Much of Doha’s aid to the “Libyan revolutionaries” has been funnelled through Qatar-based Islamic cleric Ali Sallabi, Ismail’s brother. Ali Sallabi has been a key conduit of Qa­tari arms shipments to jihadists in Libya since 2011, Western and Arab diplomats said. He is also a member of the International Union of Mus­lim Scholars, based in Doha and led by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a global ex­tremist spiritual guide.
BDB has claimed that Libyan Is­lamist cleric Sadiq al-Ghariani is the group’s spiritual guide. Ghariani, acknowledged by many Islamists as a grand mufti, has been banned from entering Britain for helping direct the Islamist-led takeover of Tripoli from England in 2014.
The BDB’s announcement to dis­band came after its top leaders were named by Arab countries in a “list of terrorists” said to be backed by Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have severed ties to Qatar and restricted its access to land, sea and air routes. Demands by the countries in con­flict with Qatar include halting sup­port for terrorist groups, shuttering Al Jazeera and curbing diplomatic ties with Iran. Qatar denies support­ing extremism and considers the demands as aimed at undermining its sovereignty.
Among the individuals named by the Arab powers as linked to Qatar and posing a security threat are both Sallabi brothers. The list includes LIFG commander Abdel­hakim Belhadj.
The BDB said it decided to dis­solve to “spare Libyans the suffer­ing” caused by continued war and violence.
“We have decided, based on our reading of the current circumstanc­es and out of our sense of respon­sibility towards our country and based on our wish to spare it the horror of an international war on its soil, to announce our readiness to disband the Benghazi Defence Bri­gades,” the group said.
The BDB claimed it has informa­tion that “foreign countries were preparing to occupy Libya under the pretext of fighting terrorism.” It named France, Egypt and the Unit­ed Arab Emirates.
The BDB’s move came about one month after jihadist group Ansar al- Sharia, which is linked to al-Qaeda, declared it was disbanding. Ansar al-Sharia, which Washington says was behind the 2012 Benghazi at­tack that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, has been fighting Field Marshal Khalifa Haf­tar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).
The group said its decision came after heavy losses, including to its leadership.
Ansar al-Sharia and BDB have been known to have close links.
BDB was formed in June 2016 as a militia fighting with al-Qaeda-associated Benghazi Revolutionar­ies Shura Council against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord and the LNA. The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council is a loose coalition of jihadist factions in Libya. One of the members of the Shura Council is Ansar al-Sharia.
Experts see Ansar al-Sharia as closer to the Islamic State (ISIS) than to al-Qaeda while the BDB is deemed to be closer to al-Qaeda. Both groups shifted alliances de­pending on the battles they fought and the cities where they have fol­lowers.

The announcements that the two groups were disbanding indirectly reflected the new military realities as Haftar’s forces advanced against Islamists, especially in eastern Lib­ya.
The fallout from such announce­ments could bolster stability in east­ern Libya and benefit production at main terminals in the key eastern oil crescent.
The BDB controlled parts of the oil crescent in March before it re­treated to its main base in southern Libya a few weeks later.