On Tuesday, I looked at how Ansar al Sharia in Libya has deep al Qaeda ties and is, indeed, within the al Qaeda network. Today, I would like to provide two more examples of this. @MaliWitness, a Twitter analyst who monitors jihadists in North Africa, has brought these two cases to my attention.
The first case is above with Abu al Abed, who, as the tweet says, has ties to both Ansar al Sharia Tunisia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Some of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's most senior leaders have known al Qaeda ties, and at least two of them previously served as important al Qaeda operatives in Europe. The group's leadership openly praises al Qaeda and the organization's social media is littered with pro-al Qaeda messages. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's Twitter account, before it was suspended, was known to re-tweet official messages disseminated by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) official media wing, Al Andalus Foundation. AQIM leaders have repeatedly praised and offered advice to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.
Moreover, there are several credible accounts asserting that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in both Tunisia and Libya cooperate. The Tunisian Prime Minister said to Reuters, "There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya."
Abu al Abed, according to Magharebia, is a member of both Ansar al Sharia Tunisia and AQIM. It should be noted that dual-hatted memberships in al Qaeda groups are not a rarity. Take, for example, Mustafa al Yazid or "Saeed al Masri". Al Masri, a longtime member of al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010. Magharebia notes that al Abed fights in Mali and was featured in an official AQIM video. In this video, he calls on jihadists to travel to North Africa when he states, "If you love to open up Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and you want to open Andalusia [Muslim Spain], come here."
The second case is that of Mohammad Wasia, which as @MaliWitness states, allegedly had links to Ansar al Sharia Libya and was killed in Mali. Upon researching into this teenager, I found a tweet confirming he fought in Mali by a jihadist figure. The tweet is below:
For those who cannot read Arabic, the tweet says, "Mohammad al Wasia was born in 1993 in the city of Benghazi. He left for jihad in the land of al Azwad, Mali. Our brother Mohammad, who's nickname was Abu Makhls al Libi...Mohammad [attended] one of the camps." This same account later posted a eulogy picture for Wasia. Similarly, an online forum was also found to be discussing his death in Mali.
Tracking Terrorism also claimed Wasia fought in AQIM's al Furqan Brigades and was killed fighting in the remote north of Mali. Tracking Terrorism claims that Wasia fought alongside Abu Osama al Jazairi, also known as Belkacem Zouadi. Zouadi had a long history of deep al Qaeda ties before his death in Mali in 2013 by French forces. Algerian-born, Zouadi would travel to Afghanistan in the 1990's to fight the Afghan communist regime. It was here where he met Ibn al Shaykh al Libi, who would later head the infamous Khalden training camp of al Qaeda.
Afterwards, he traveled to Sudan and met with Usama Bin Laden until again travelling to Afghanistan to train in al Qaeda camps. He then found himself in Algeria as part of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Fighting (GSPC), the precursor to AQIM. Tracking Terrorism claims that during this time he had personal correspondence with Aymen al Zawahiri. Eventually, Zouadi made his way up to the Shura Council of AQIM and would become one of the best trainers for al Qaeda forces in North Africa.
If Wasia was, in fact, a member of Ansar al Sharia Libya and was fighting alongside a longtime al Qaeda veteran at the time of his death, this further highlights how Ansar al Sharia plays into the dynamics of al Qaeda in this region. Operational ties between al Qaeda groups is also not a rarity, as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Shabaab have, at one point, established operational ties; various groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (i.e al Qaeda, the Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Turkestan Islamic Party, Haqqani Network, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, etc), all operate as a syndicate and party lines are often blurred; or even Ansar al Sharia Libya, AQIM, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Muhammad Jamal Network coordinating together in Libya--which is an interesting fact in and of itself in regards to Ansar al Sharia's al Qaeda connections.
The Muhammad Jamal Network, as The Long War Journal notes, "is run by an Egyptian who was trained by al Qaeda in the 1980s and has long been a subordinate to Zawahiri. In the 1990s, Jamal served as a commander in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which merged with al Qaeda." It is also thought that Jamal is working to establish his own al Qaeda branch and has training camps in both Egypt and Libya. If Ansar al Sharia did, in fact, work with three known al Qaeda groups in the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, this adds another level to their operational ties with al Qaeda.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, several groups try to hide their al Qaeda affiliations until they are ready to come public with them. For example, Usama bin Laden instructed Mukhtar Abu al Zubayr, the late head of al Shabaab, to hide Shabaab's ties to al Qaeda. And Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda in Syria, did something similar where they went official with their al Qaeda ties when al Baghdadi tried to assimilate them into al Qaeda in Iraq.
It is becoming more and more evident that Ansar al Sharia is al Qaeda in Libya.
Thanks to @MaliWitness again, yet another example of Ansar al Sharia's al Qaeda connections have came into the light.
The man above is Mahmoud al Wuhayshi, who went by the kunya "Abu Muhajir al Libi". According to this Facebook post about his death, he was killed fighting at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi. Fighting at the airport has been raging for quite some time, as Ansar al Sharia and their allies in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council are vying for control of the airport against the former Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar. For more information on this, see my article at The Long War Journal here.
Al Libi, as the aforementioned Facebook post mentions, was an Al Qaeda veteran, having fought for AQIM in Algeria and Mali for at least six years. It seems that the fact of spotting Ansar al Sharia guys fighting alongside AQIM guys is also true for the opposite. It would appear that AQIM has sent guys to help Ansar al Sharia and their allies against Hiftar's forces in Benghazi. This only serves to further highlight Ansar al Sharia's ties into the al Qaeda network.