Partisans of Islamic Law, Partisans of Sharia in Libya, Supporters of Islamic Law in Libya, Supporters of Sharia in Libya, Katibat Ansar al-Sharia, Ansar al-Charia in Libya
Muhammad al-Zahawi was widely recognized as Ansar al-Sharia Libya’s (ASL) Amir and spiritual leader. Little was known about him besides his imprisonment in Tropoli for opposing Gaddafi. In January 2015, it was confirmed by ASL that he had died. It was believed that he died as a result of injuries sustained while fighting government forces in Benghazi.
The number of members is unknown.
Very little is known about ASL’s funding sources. Some part of its funding is believed to come from donations based on its charity work.
ASL was officially formed in June 2012, and it was made up of former rebels from several militias based in eastern Libya. These militias included the Abu Obayda bin al-Jarah Brigade, the Malik Brigade and the 17 February Brigade.
The roots of these organizations emerged following the 2011 Libyan revolution. Their goal was to establish a sharia movement. ASL united many of the group’s fighting for this cause and fought to remove US and Western influence as well as establish an Islamic movement in Libya.
Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi, ASL rose to prominence as a legitimate movement in Libya. ASL took advantage of a deteriorated security situation in order to build ties with local communities. This strengthened ASL and allowed them to operate in more locations across Libya.
ASL drew international attention when some of its members were believed to be involved in the September 11, 2012 attacks on the US facilities in Benghazi. This attack left four Americans dead, including the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.
ASL denied any involvement in the attack, however, Libyan government forces began to crack down on its operations. This caused a rebranding effort that led to the removal of the previous name Katibat Ansar al-Sharia, in favour of the more national identity they are referred to today (ASL). This process was the beginning of an attempt at rigorous rehabilitation focusing on similar ideologies to Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia. The focus was placed on charitable activities in support of global jihad. In addition, ASL has had several confrontations with other Libyan groups, this has resulted in a significant reduction in its military presence despite keeping close ties to the prominent Islamist militia, 17 February Brigade.
The group’s most significant attack, which it denies any involvement in, is the September 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. The attack resulted in the death of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens along with three other Americans.
ASL has also been implicated by Libyan security forces in a number of unsolved assassinations of security officials, government officials, and civil society activists. There are also a number of bombings and attacks that have been attributed to ASL that may or may not have an actual connection.
June 2, 2014: launches counter attack against General Haftar’s ‘Operation Dignity’. (18 killed, ~70 wounded)
July 30, 2014: announces seizure of Benghazi and declares an ‘Islamic Emitrate.’ (60+ killed)
September 15, 2014: violent 24 hour clashes against Haftar’s forces in Benghazi. (19 killed)
October 3, 2014: multiple suicide attacks by various Islamist groups against Libyan soldiers. (40 killed, total number of wounded unknown)
ASL is primarily an Islamist militia that calls for the implementation of strict Sharia law across Libya.
Despite maintain separation from groups like Al Qaida, ASL’s core ideologies have a particular global jihadist underpinning.
There has been an attempt to rebrand the organization in the pursuit of charitable work, due largely to intense pressure on the organization following the Benghazi attack. This has resulted in a number of members less interested in charity leaving to fight in Tunisia and Syria.
Former ASL leader Zahawi publicly rejected any association between Al Qaida, as well as committing to reject any form of government that is not Sharia.
A trend has developed within the organization that has formed two identities;
One part of the organization has focused on charitable and stabilization efforts. Performing charity duties, teaching, providing security and health services. The charity work portion of the organization mimics that of Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia (AST). The group operates at the grass-root level to build a public support base in Libya.
The other part has continued with its initial militia tendencies, carrying out violent attacks and acting as a training base for foreign and domestic jihadists. Some analysts believe that ASL is a front for al-Qaeda, however they have instituted a charitable presence in order to avoid the negative attention associated with the al-Qaeda name. A large amount of foreign fighters come from countries surrounding Libya, and therefore it has become a training hub for foreign fighters seeking jihad.
Despite ASL’s rebrand, they have resorted to violence when threatened and at times launched attacks against other Libyan groups. The group has ties to most Libyan cities and work with regional extremist groups to train, conduct attacks and collect weapons.
The group has focused on traditional jihadist type attacks, focusing on bombings and small arms.
ASL has also launched a substantial outreach program including the provision of social and security services. In addition, they have dispatched agents overseas to Syria, Sudan and Gaza to assist in humanitarian efforts. This has allowed ASL to engage with populations outside of Libya and engage in support abroad.
Tunisian security officials have pointed to operational and financial links between AST and ASL, despite both groups denying any cooperation.
Updated on December 4, 2015.