The al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), which Washington believes was behind the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, alleged over the weekend that it is dissolving itself.
Long-linked to al-Qaeda, many of its members defected to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s group established a presence in the North African region.
ISIS and al-Qaeda are enemies, though ISIS was once known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Moreover, ASL has been at war with Former Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army based in the eastern part of the country.
In a statement issued Saturday, ASL reportedly announced it is disbanding itself, noting that it has been “weakened” by the fighting.
Citing the ASL statement, Reuters reports that “the group said its decision came on the back of heavy losses that have wiped out its leadership and decimated its fighters.”
At the end of 2014, the group lost its leader, Mohammed Azahawi, in clashes with forces affiliated with Haftar, considered by some to be the Libya’s “new” Muammar Gaddafi, the dictator who was overthrown and deposed in 2011.
Since Gaddafi’s fall, Libya has been gripped by chaos, providing a “fertile ground” for jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and ASL, among others, according to U.S. and Libyan military officials.
“At its zenith, Ansar al-Sharia was present in Benghazi and Derna in eastern Syria, with offshoots in Sirte and Sabratha, western Libya,” reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“The organization took over barracks and other sites abandoned by the ousted [Gaddafi] forces and transformed them into training grounds for hundreds of jihadists seeking to head to Iraq or Syria,” it adds.
An alleged ISIS jihadist held prisoner in Libya recently told VICE News that ASL facilitated the establishment of the former ISIS stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and place of death.
U.S. military officials once considered Sirte, located a few hundred miles from the European coast, to be ISIS’s largest stronghold outside Iraq and Syria.
Libya militias, supported by the American military, have pushed ISIS out of the city, but the organization is believed to be regrouping elsewhere in the country.
Jihadist organizations such as ASL have engaged in combat in the larger Libyan war, creating an environment filled with a multitude of fractious militias.
“In Libya, the ISIS stronghold in Sirte has been degraded. But what remains is a divided nation littered with independent militias, flooded with arms and searching in vain for legitimate governance and political unity,” declared John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in March.
In announcing its dissolution, Ansar al-Sharia reportedly urged the different Libyan jihadist groups to unite.
On September 11, 2012, ASL jihadists carried out the attack in Libya’s Benghazi that killed American Amb. J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, as well as CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty, according to officials in Washington.