A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Ansar Al-Sharia (Libya) Narrative


Ansar Al-Sharia (Libya)

Last Update

January 2015

Aliases

Partisans of Islamic Law; Partisans of Sharia; Ansar Al-Sharia (Benghazi)[1]

History

The Libyan branch of Ansar Al-Sharia was established following the death of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, which resulted in the release of some 20,000 prisoners some of who would eventually join the group.[2] Over the next year, it affirmed its Islamic fundamentalist and anti-Western ideology, going so far as to attack the American embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.[3] Immediately following this, the residents of Benghazi ousted the group from the city. In early 2013, however, Ansar Al-Sharia returned to Benghazi, providing security and humanitarian services presumably so as to enter the residents’ good graces before resuming its violent activities.[4]

Ansar-Al Sharia operates primarily as a coalition of jihadist groups, with Sheikh Muhammad al-Zahawi serving as its primary leader alongside other senior leaders such as Ahmed Abu Khattalah.[5] Although the group’s loyalties to al-Qa’ida are ambiguous, it is believed to have received some material and financial support from al-Qa’ida.[6] As of January 2014, Ansar Al-Sharia is considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, though the United States has yet to take any formal counterterrorism actions against the group.[7]

Home Base

Libya

Founding Year

2012[8]

Ideology

  • Religious-Islamist-Salafist.[9]

Specific Goals

  • Implement sharia law.[10]
  • Project and defend its views of Islam by any means necessary[11]

Political Activity

  • Ansar Al-Sharia is not known to involve itself in political activity
    • Sheikh Muhammad al-Zahawi went so far as to forbid members from participating in the General National Congress elections on July 7, 2012.[12]

Financing

  • Funded by other violent group: Ansar Al-Sharia’s material and financial support is reported to stem directly from al-Qa’ida.[13]

Leadership and Structure over Time

  • Ansar Al-Sharia is a largely amorphous organization, with little formal structure and current leadership difficult to detect.[14]
  • 2012-2015: Sheikh Muhammad al-Zahawi was the official head of the organization until his death in January of 2015 during a battle with pro-government Libyan forces.[15]
  • Ahmed Abu Khattalah is a senior leader within the group.[16]

Strength

  • 2012: Less than 200[17]

Allies and Suspected Allies

  • Al-Qa’ida (ally):
    • AQ is affiliated with Ansar Al Sharia and it is reported that AQ supports them financially.[18] In 2012, Ansar Al Sharia announced their adherence to AQ.[19]
  • Egyptian Islamic Jihad (suspected ally):
    • The leadership of EIJ has ties to the leadership of Ansar Al Sharia, although the extent of the interaction between these groups is largely unknown.[20]
  • Ansar al-Sharia (Derna) (suspected ally):
    • These groups have a loose affiliation with one another.[21]
  • Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) (ally):
    • AQLIM was reportedly in contact with Ansar al-Sharia during the planning of the Benghazi attack and the groups are considered linked by the United Nations.[22]

Rivals and Enemies

  • United States (enemy):
    • Ansar al-Sharia sees the US at its enemy and was responsible for attacking the US consulate in Benghazi and killing US ambassador Chris Stevens along with three other Americans.[23]

Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Domestic Political:
    • Though the government of Libya has launched no formal efforts against Ansar Al-Sharia, the people of Benghazi launched pro-government protests against the organization immediately following the September 2012 attack, successfully forcing Ansar Al-Sharia out of Benghazi for a time.[24]

United States Government Designations

  • Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), January 3, 2014.[25]

Other Governments’ Designations

None

 

[1] “US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html; Roula Khalaf, “Radical Islamists rebrand in changing times,” Financial Times, September 28, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/radical-islamists-unite-under-fresh-name/2012/09/27/7a168fb0-08ca-11e2-858a-5311df86ab04_story.html

[2] “US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html; Haim Malka, “Al Qaeda’s Offspring,” CSIS Middle East Notes and Comments, March, 2013. http://csis.org/files/publication/0313_MENC.pdf

[3] “US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html

[4] Asmaa Elourfi, “Ansar al-Sharia returns to Benghazi,” Magharebia, February 26, 2013. http://www.eurasiareview.com/26022013-libya-ansar-al-sharia-returns-to-benghazi/

[5] Nic Robertson, Paul Cruicksank and Tim Lister, “Pro-al Qaeda group seen behind deadly Benghazi attack,” CNN, September 13, 2012. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/12/world/africa/libya-attack-jihadists/; Frederic Wehrey, “The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 12, 2012. http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/09/12/wrath-of-libya-s-salafis/dtaz; ”US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html

[6] Haim Malka, “Al Qaeda’s Offspring,” CSIS Middle East Notes and Comments, March, 2013. http://csis.org/files/publication/0313_MENC.pdf; Mathieu Galtier, “Tug of war over Benghazi could decide control of Libya,” USA Today, April 24, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/22/libya-benghazi/2077253/

[7] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism, Foreign Terrorist Organizations.  http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

[8] United Nations Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida  and associated individuals and entities,  Narrative Summaries of Reasons for listing, QDe.146.Ansar Al Charia Benghazi, November 19, 2014. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQDe146E.shtml

[9] Roula Khalaf, “Radical Islamists rebrand in changing times,” Financial Times, September 28, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/radical-islamists-unite-under-fresh-name/2012/09/27/7a168fb0-08ca-11e2-858a-5311df86ab04_story.html

[10] Roula Khalaf, “Radical Islamists rebrand in changing times,” Financial Times, September 28, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/radical-islamists-unite-under-fresh-name/2012/09/27/7a168fb0-08ca-11e2-858a-5311df86ab04_story.html

[11] Haim Malka, “Al Qaeda’s Offspring,” CSIS Middle East Notes and Comments, March, 2013. http://csis.org/files/publication/0313_MENC.pdf

[12] Frederic Wehrey, “The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 12, 2012. http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/09/12/wrath-of-libya-s-salafis/dtaz

[13] Mathieu Galtier, “Tug of war over Benghazi could decide control of Libya,” USA Today, April 24, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/22/libya-benghazi/2077253/

[14] Nic Robertson,  Paul Cruicksank and Tim Lister, “Pro-al Qaeda group seen behind deadly Benghazi attack,” CNN, September 13, 2012. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/12/world/africa/libya-attack-jihadists/

[15] Frederic Wehrey, “The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 12, 2012. http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/09/12/wrath-of-libya-s-salafis/dtaz; Ulf Laessing, “Leader of Libyan Islamists Ansar al-Sharia dies of wounds.” Reuters, January 23, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/23/us-libya-security-idUSKBN0KW1MU20150123

[16] ”US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html

[17] David Kirkpatrick, Suliman Ali Zway and Kareem Rahim, “Attack by Fringe Group Highlights the Problem of Libya’s Militias,” The New York Times, September 15, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/world/middleeast/attack-by-fringe-group-highlights-the-problem-of-libya-militias.html

[18] Martin Fletcher, "Ambassador's killer 'planned raid with al-Qaeda'," The Times (London), September 17, 2012. Mathieu Galtier, “Tug of war over Benghazi could decide control of Libya,” USA Today, April 24, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/22/libya-benghazi/2077253/; Thomas Joscelyn, “Al-Qaeda and the Arab Spring,” National Post, January 11, 2013. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/thomas-joscelyn-al-qaeda-and-the-arab-spring

[19] United Nations Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida  and associated individuals and entities,  Narrative Summaries of Reasons for listing, QDe.146.Ansar Al Charia Benghazi, November 19, 2014. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQDe146E.shtml

[20] Thomas Joscelyn, “Al-Qaeda and the Arab Spring,” National Post, January 11, 2013. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/thomas-joscelyn-al-qaeda-and-the-arab-spring

[21] ”US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html

[22] United Nations Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida  and associated individuals and entities,  Narrative Summaries of Reasons for listing, QDe.146.Ansar Al Charia Benghazi, November 19, 2014. http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQDe146E.shtml; Fletcher, Martin. "Ambassador's killer 'planned raid with al-Qaeda'." The Times (London). September 17, 2012.

[23] Thomas Joscelyn, “Al-Qaeda and the Arab Spring,” National Post, January 11, 2013. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/thomas-joscelyn-al-qaeda-and-the-arab-spring; “US names groups suspected of Benghazi attack,” Al Jazeera English, January 10, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/01/us-names-groups-suspected-benghazi-attack-201411021401881175.html

[24] Peter Graff and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Libyan Islamist militia swept out of Benghazi bases,” Reuters (Africa), September 22, 2012. http://af.reuters.com/article/libyaNews/idAFL1E8KM09O20120922?sp=true

[25] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, May 27, 2014, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/225886.pdf