TRIPOLI: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on Sunday urged Libyans to fight a rogue general pressing an offensive against Islamist militias in the country’s east, labelling him an “enemy of Islam”.
Just hours after the AQIM statement, ex-general Khalifa Haftar’s forces launched fresh air raids on Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi, witnesses said, without any casualties reported. Last month, the general unleashed forces from his so-called National Army on Islamist militias in Benghazi in a campaign dubbed “Operation Dignity”.
“We call on you to unite to remove the symbol of treachery and apostasy, Khalifa Haftar, and the supporters of (late dictator Moamer) Kadhafi who are under his command,” AQIM said in its statement posted on jihadist Internet forums. “Thanks to the support of the bloodthirsty (Egyptian president-elect Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi, American complicity and funding from Gulf countries, the traitor Haftar has launched a war against Islam on the pretext of fighting terrorism,” it said. “We warn our Libyan brothers that the criminal Haftar is carrying out a crusader plan against sharia (Islamic law), and we especially urge the Libyan heroes of the revolution to strongly resist it”.
On Sunday, Haftar’s forces targeted Islamist military camps and assembly points in Benghazi, said General Saqr al-Jerushi, commander of his air operations. He said members of jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia holding a meeting at a former royal palace were among the targets. Columns of black smoke billowed over the sites hit, including a camp of the Ansar-linked “February 17 Martyrs Brigade”, according to an AFP correspondent in the Mediterranean city. Authorities have denounced Haftar as an outlaw, but he has won over units from the regular army and air force and says he aims to crush “terrorism” in Benghazi.
Since the 2011 uprising that ousted Kadhafi, near-daily attacks blamed on radical Islamists have targeted security forces in Benghazi. Militias of ex-rebels who fought in the 2011 uprising have refused to hand over their weapons and have carved out fiefdoms for themselves across the mostly desert nation. On Tuesday, Ansar al-Sharia slammed Haftar and threatened that he could end up like Kadhafi, killed by rebels eight months after the 2011 uprising erupted.
Ansar al-Sharia, classified as a terrorist group by Washington, also called on Libyans to disassociate themselves from the “dignity” campaign. But Haftar says the people have given him a “mandate” to press ahead with his offensive after thousands demonstrated in Tripoli and Benghazi to support him. He has “thanked” Libyans who took part in the rallies in the two cities on Friday for the second week running. “No steps backwards until the country is liberated, security and stability restored and freedom and democracy established,” he said in a statement read on private television.
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