Al Qaeda militants in Libya attack IS after leader killed

BENGHAZI: Al Qaeda militants in eastern Libya declared holy war on the local Islamic State affiliate after one of their senior leaders was killed Wednesday by masked gunmen, which set off clashes between the rival jihadi groups that left 11 people dead on both sides, including a top militant commander.

The hours-long fighting in the eastern coastal city of Darna erupted after gunmen opened fire on Nasser Akr, an Al Qaeda-inspired militant once held in the United Kingdom on terrorism charges.

The 55-year-old veteran jihadi, who fought in Afghanistan, was killed along with his aide. Akr’s group ─ known as the Shura Council of Darna’s Jihadis ─ announced his death in a statement Wednesday, blaming it on Islamic State militants.

It accused the IS fighters of “tyranny and criminality,” and vowed to wage “holy war against them until none of them are left.” It also called on residents to rise up against the extremist group.

The ensuing clashes killed at least nine IS militants and two from the Shura Council, including Salem Derbi, the commander of the so-called Abu Salem Brigade, which has history of enmity with the IS affiliate.

The IS group in Libya is a mixture of homegrown militants, former Al Qaeda affiliates and foreign nationals who were trained in Syria and sent to join IS in Libya.

The clashes in Darna mirrored regional rivalry between the two groups, which are also fighting against one another in Syria.

A member of the Abu Salem Brigade, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media, told The Associated Press that among IS members killed in Wednesday’s exchange was the group’s top ideologue Hossam Abu-Rashed. “Now we are searching for the Wali,” the Brigade member added.

He was referring to a Yemeni militant sent from Syria to fight for Libya’s IS affiliate and known with his nom de guerre Abu al-Baraa el-Azdia. The member added that many of those killed are foreign nationals.

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