Cracks Emerge Between Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and Islamic State
The relationship between the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR) and the Benghazi elements of the Islamic State (IS) appears to be fraying. Previously, the two insurgent groups in Libya’s second largest city fought together against the Libyan National Army, and IS is considered one of the groups under the SCBR umbrella, yet an Islamic State video released on December 21 grouped the SCBR flag with other “infidel” groups working to advance the interests of the United States. Despite this blatant insult, it wasn’t until December 27 that the SCBR responded, issuing a statement that disputed the accusation but falling well short of condemning the Islamic State or splitting with the group (despite the allegations of many commentators). The statement touts the values of the Shura Council and those of its fighters, rejecting the IS claim that they are “infidels.” Despite this dispute, the SCBR uses conciliatory language regarding the Islamic State, agreeing that “infidel groups” exist in Libya and that those groups are their common enemy.
Almost immediately, an IS rejoinder circulated on jihadist Twitter accounts, reasserting the claims of the original statement and attacking the SCBR for its ties to Libya Dawn in Tripoli, a group widely seen as un-Islamic by hardcore Salafists. Despite the speculation caused by the release, statement’s validity is questionable. The statement is at best unofficial and is potentially fake. As the reader can see below, the rejoinder was written in plain text and posted on the common media-hosting site “justpaste.it.” While the site is commonly used to distribute jihadi media and statements, the Islamic State always formats their releases in fixed graphical form rather than plain text. This provides a measure of protection against forgery and ensures that they are readily recognizable. The use of plain text, the unusual title picture, and the inclusion of a “Telegram” user ID all indicate that this release is not an official Islamic State release. It is possible that this text is copied from an official release, but no such document has yet emerged.
Even disregarding the potentially misleading rejoinder, the jihadi coalition in Benghazi is showing signs of fracturing. The Islamic State is not known for working well in coalitions or maintaining partnerships with fellow Islamist fighters, and with the looming establishment of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), many groups may want to disassociate themselves with the only entity opposed by all members of that government. If militant groups perceive that the GNA has a possibility of becoming a viable governing body, they may position themselves in a more favorable manner, potentially angering their members and encouraging defections. Following the rhetorical spat detailed above, rumors emerged on 30 December of SCBR fighters in Sabri and Wust al-Balad defecting to IS en masse, but those reports have not been confirmed by a second source or any group statement.
It is far too early to judge whether the Islamic State is at risk of being expelled from Benghazi as they were in Derna. There is no evidence that the SCBR has ever militarily clashed with the Islamic State, nor have there been notable signs of disagreement between the groups. Nearly no confirmed information exists regarding the friction between the two groups and even if a dispute exists it could be settled amicably. Furthermore, if the SCBR was subjected to infighting, General Haftar’s Libyan National Army could take advantage of that conflict to fully establish control over the city. Unless the dispute escalates to a much more significant level, both groups will likely remain allied in order to preserve their positions in Benghazi.