By Erik Goepner
In early October, the Islamic Youth Shura Council announced that Darnah, Libya, had joined the Islamic State’s caliphate. Alternatively referred to as Derna or Darna, 80,000 call the city home. Sitting along the Mediterranean, Darnah has a “notorious” reputation as a center for the recruitment of fighters for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Two hundred miles to its east lies the Libyan border with Egypt, while Benghazi sits 180 miles to Darnah’s west.
Relatively unknown, the Islamic Youth Shura Council (aka MSSI) is thought to have begun operations in March of this year under the banner of al-Qaeda. The current rift between al-Qaeda and IS notwithstanding, the Islamic Youth Shura Council is now one of 20+ jihadi groups which have pledged their allegiance to IS. With things moving so quickly and on-the-ground access for journalists often too risky, the affiliation between the two groups remains uncertain.
At the same time, Tripoli and Benghazi are purportedly under the control of Islamist groups as well, though those groups have no known affiliation with the Islamic Youth Shura Council. In Tripoli, a federation of dubious unity, known as Fajr Libya, appears to be nominally in control, while in Benghazi multiple groups have also loosely aligned themselves, the largest of which is Ansar al-Shariah. Against this backdrop of insecurity, Khalifa Haftara, an ex-Libyan general, now leads an interesting array of forces attempting to reassert government control. He oversees Libyan military units, ostensibly under government control, along with assorted militiamen; loyal, it would seem, only to him.