Groups Pledge Allegiance to ISIS in Eastern Libya

Oct 07, 2014 at 12:09 PM ET

An eerie pro-ISIS demonstration paints a picture of the extremist group’s rising influence in the Middle East. Hundreds of demonstrators from the Libyan militant Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah declared authority Sunday over Derna, a city in the eastern part of the country, while the Shura Council of Islamic Youth Derna, a local extremist group, pledged allegiance to ISIS, according to local reports.

The rally’s purpose was to announce the establishment of the Islamic State Police in Derna and to get people to officially pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. A video posted to YouTube Sunday shows armed terrorists with machine guns parading in a line of vehicles toward “companions square,” shouting ISIS slogans and waving the black flag of Islam, typically touted by ISIS.

Ansar al-Shariah is the group accused of killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in the infamous Benghazi incident at the U.S. consulate in 2012.

“Companions square” is where the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth executed a prisoner a few months ago. Several users uploading photos from Sunday’s event claimed the SCIY pledged allegiance to ISIS at the end of the event.

Although the spread of ISIS into Libya is potentially significant, Derna is far from a stable bedrock of support for the growing movement. Another rival Islamist militia, the Abu Sleem Martyrs’ Brigade, has said it won’t be pledging allegiance to any non-Libyan group anytime soon. On top of that, a meeting on the establishment of Derna’s caliphate, scheduled by SCIY to take place at the historic Sahaba Mosque in Derna, never happened—because of an utter lack of interest from the local population. The kind of local apathy seen in Derna lends credence to claims that ISIS is at its best when either using overwhelming force to capture an area, or moving in to occupy a vacuum.

Before the rally on Saturday, the Libyan national army bombed areas where members of Ansar al-Shariah were positioned Saturday, killing several men. Libya Ansar al-Shariah began a campaign in Tripoli against the Libyan government on July 13, and thousands have died in the fighting. The group is thought to have almost full control over Benghazi. Libyan militia groups like Ansar al-Shariah are violently fighting for control of the country three years after the country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was overthrown.

In a speech on America’s strategy to destroy ISIS in early September, President Barack Obama said the coalition against the extremist group should “remain vigilant” as new threats emerge in the Middle East and North Africa. In a September interview with The New York Times, Obama said the U.S. needed to pay more attention to Libya’s instability.

“It’s the day after Ghadafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, ‘Thank you, America,'” he said. “At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions.”