Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Libyan militiamen raised the flags of Al-Qaeda in the town of Derna, eastern Libya, in a display of force in defiance of the central government on Saturday.
An organization called the Islamic Youth Shura Council—based in Derna, a stronghold of extremist Islamist groups in Libya—announced its intention to deploy patrols at the eastern and western entrances to the town, and declared it would open the door for volunteers from the town to join its forces.
The organization—whose members patrol the town unchallenged in four-wheel-drive vehicles with mounted machine guns—says it is the protector of the town, and that it works for the resolution of disputes and the restoration of rights under Islamic Shari’a law.
This is the third time that armed fighters have raised the Al-Qaeda flag in Derna, which along with the rest of Libya has seen a sharp deterioration in security since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
There was no official reaction by the Libyan authorities to this show of force. During his time in office, former prime minister Ali Zeidan warned that the government would impose security in the town by sending in government forces, but never carried out the threats.
Meanwhile, unofficial reports circulated on Saturday said that the extremist Ansar Al-Sharia organization planned to declare Derna the center of an Islamist emirate, independent from the Libyan state.
Derna, a town on the east coast of Libya, was previously notorious as a center for the recruitment of fighters for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Libya has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks, while the government has sought to impose its authority in a country awash with weapons and armed militias.
In another development, senior Libyan sources said that secret talks between Ibrahim Jathran—leader of secessionist rebels in Brega who have imposed a blockade on three critical oil ports in eastern Libya—and members of the General National Congress (GNC), mediated by tribal leaders, have suddenly collapsed.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that an agreement between the two sides fell through when the transitional government reneged, claiming it had no knowledge of any deal, which was the same position adopted by GNC speaker Nouri Abusahmain two days ago.
Jathran seems to be facing difficulty in persuading his aides of the importance of reaching an agreement which allows the central government to assume control of the ports and oil fields in exchange for additional autonomy for eastern Libya.
On Friday, seven members of Jathran’s Brega political bureau resigned in protest against what they described as monopolizing of decisions with regards to the secret talks with parliamentary and tribal parties supported by Tripoli.
Jathran, who fought against Gaddafi and previously served as the commander of a paramilitary force in charge of guarding oil installations, defected from the central government with his group, alleging corruption in the way national oil revenues were distributed.
As a result, the main oil fields and ports in the country have been closed since July 2013. Jathran’s group subsequently declared autonomy for Eastern Libya, or Cyrenaica, and demanded Libya adopt a federal political system.
In a related incident, the North Korean-registered oil tanker, Morning Glory, unloaded its cargo of oil at the Zawiyah refinery on Saturday, ending a saga which saw it stray into the heart of the struggle for power in Libya.
After being loaded with a cargo of oil at a rebel-held port and escaping a government blockade, the ship was seized in international waters by the US Navy at the request of the Libyan government in mid-March.
Meanwhile, the Libyan government announced that the statements made by Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz about the return of monarchy to Libya represented a personal opinion and not the view of the Libyan government.
The country’s interim government posted an official statement on its website which read: “the system of government in Libya will be chosen freely by the people of Libya according to proposals by the constituent body for the drafting of the constitution.”
During the recent Arab Summit in Kuwait, Abdulaziz said that the return of monarchy to Libya was the solution to the country’s security problems, adding that this option “was strongly open in the Libyan arena.”
He added that he knew of discussions underway with dignitaries and tribal leaders on the possibility of restoring the monarchy, as well as with Mohamed Senussi, grandson of the late Libyan Crown Prince Hassan Rida Senussi.
King Idris Al-Senussi was overthrown in a 1969 military coup led by Muammar Gaddafi.