A rival Islamist group, known as the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), has forced the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) out of the key eastern city of Derna and its outskirts in Libya.
“Airstrikes by the Libyan Army, the US and Egypt have also repeatedly hit the so-called ‘caliphate’s’ fighting positions in the area over the past year and a half,” notes The Long War Journal (LWJ).
Amaq News Agency, a media arm of ISIS that provides updates on the group’s fighting across the world, conceded that the jihadists have retreated from Derna, adds LWJ in a separate report.
A statement released by Amaq reportedly noted that ISIS has “retreated from [Al Fatayih] area, near the coastal city of Derna in Libya’s northeast.”
Moreover, Hafeth al-Dabaa, a spokesman for the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, also known as the MSC, said ISIS jihadists “have all left Derna – they have no presence here anymore,” according to BBC.
The MSC is an alliance linked to ISIS’ rival al-Qaeda. It opposes ISIS’ presence in Libya.
Last year, the MSC pushed ISIS out of the heart of Derna, forcing the jihadists to operate from outside the city in Al Fatayih, notes LWJ.
“Derna has seen a three-way conflict between [ISIS], DMSC and forces loyal to Libya’s eastern government,” reports BBC. “Since 2014, Libya has had two competing governments — one in the capital Tripoli, and another in the eastern city of Tobruk.”
“A new UN-brokered unity government is trying to restore peace in the country, which has been ravaged by conflict since the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011,” it adds.
BBC notes that the MSC’s claim could not be independently verified.
“As Amaq reports, however, the Islamic State’s fighters continue to battle their way south of Derna,” notes LWJ. “It is likely that some of them will make their way to the group’s strongholds in Sirte or elsewhere.”
Although ISIS has been pushed out of Derna, it remains strong elsewhere in Libya, particularly in the port city of Sirte.
At least five MSC fighters and six civilians were killed in the clashes, Dabaa told BBC.
Since last Wednesday, pictures posed on social media outlets have shown Derna residents celebrating.
— Nadia Ramadan (@NadiaR_LY) April 20, 2016
— Thomas van Linge (@arabthomness) April 20, 2016
The Derna prison that housed suspected ISIS jihadists had been bombed, the MSC spokesman told BBC, adding that some of the inmates were able to escape, but most were later apprehended.
ISIS “established a base in Derna in October 2015 and fully controlled the city until June that year,” notes BBC. “Derna was a jihadist stronghold in the 1980s and 1990s during the insurgency against Col Gaddafi.”
“The developments since Wednesday mark the fall of what is believed to have been the last IS foothold on the outskirts of Derna,” adds the report. “If this holds, it is a significant development and will be seen as evidence of the group’s faltering presence in Libya.”
Earlier this month, Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters that the number of ISIS jihadists in Libya, including many who aspire to attack the West, have more than doubled to between 4,000 and 6,000 in the last 12 to 18 months.
Gen. Rodriguez did note that Libyan militias, without specifically naming any of their affiliation, have been able to limit ISIS’ growth.