A video has emerged on YouTube showing Derby announcing the creation of the Shura Council. In the statement, Derby calls out renegade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar by saying, "But beware sick soul owners and those who pay the price of being followers of Khalifa Haftar, for they will not find from us mercy [or] pity. And they will see from us what panics their heart."
It is not yet known if the group is connected to the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, which is headed by the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al Sharia Benghazi. However, Derby said in the statement that, "As for you, the Shura Council of brave rebels in Benghazi, we are with you in your war with the criminal Haftar and his soldiers."
Interestingly enough, the new Shura Council shares the same basic logo design as the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council. The two logos, which shares the same basic shield background, also have a basic banner with their respective names. While the Benghazi Shura Council has two AK assault rifles on the sides, the Dernah Shura Council has a PK machine gun. The photo posted below shows the Dernah Shura Council's logo (left) and the Benghazi Shura Council's logo.
Additionally, several social media pages linked to the Benghazi Shura Council has promoted the official Facebook page of the Dernah Shura Council. The February 17th Martyrs Brigade of the Benghazi Shura Council, a group led by Wisam Ben Hamid, posted the founding statement of the Dernah Shura Council on Facebook. It is important to note that Wisam Ben Hamid is an Ansar al Sharia Benghazi ally and has personally met al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar before. A Twitter handle affiliated with the Benghazi Shura Council has also tweeted the founding statement. It is not yet known if these posts and tweets, as well as Derby's statements go beyond just rhetorical support.
It is also not known what groups other than Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade makes up the Dernah Shura Council. A jihadi-affiliated Twitter handle has said that Ansar al Sharia Dernah is a member of the Council, but this has yet to be confirmed. Ansar al Sharia Dernah is led by Sufian Ben Qumu, who was a former Guantanamo Bay inmate. My colleague Thomas Joscelyn at The Long War Journal has previously noted that Ben Qumu "Ben Qumu worked as a driver for a company owned by bin Laden in the Sudan, fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and maintained ties to several other well-known al Qaeda leaders."
Ansar al Sharia, both the Benghazi and Dernah factions, were both recently added to the UN's list of al Qaeda-affiliated groups. I have previously written a few pieces on their ties to al Qaeda and Thomas Joscelyn has a myriad of posts explaining these connections. Please read here to see various articles Tom has written on this. However, unlike what the UN says, there is no proof that Ansar al Sharia Dernah has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. While the Islamic State does have a presence in Libya--mainly in Dernah--Ansar al Sharia has not joined it.
So if Ansar al Sharia Dernah is indeed a member of the Dernah Shura Council, it is yet another al Qaeda-affiliated coalition operating in Benghazi. It is also entirely possible that this new Shura Council is to offset Islamic State influence in Dernah. Like I said above, the Islamic State does have a presence in Dernah and it has been growing recently. Abu Salim and Ansar al Sharia, who are not officially allies with the Islamic State forces in Dernah, are likely trying to mitigate influence of the Islamic State and/or working to decrease the chances of severe infighting among jihadist forces in Libya.
There is a lot that we do not know about this new Shura Council, but it is a very interesting development. I will do my best to keep up with this to find out who is involved with this group and if they are affiliated with the Benghazi Shura Council in more ways than just rhetorical support.
More pictures from the Mujahideen Shura Council of Dernah and its Suburbs below