Who are the Benghazi defense brigades that threaten France

15.11.2016 Hala Abdennour

July 17, 2016 two (or three according to French authorities) French soldiers belonging most probably to the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSE) agents are killed in Libya when the helicopter they were travelling aboard was shot down. A group known as the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) claimed responsibility for the attack and posted images of a dead body it identified as a French soldier and pictures of the downed aircraft.


French president François Hollande confirmed on July 20th that three French soldiers were killed in Libya: “At this moment we are carrying out dangerous intelligence operations [in Libya]… three of our soldiers, who were involved in these operations, have been killed in a helicopter accident [1].

The same day, in retaliation for the death of its troops, France bombed several BDB targets killing a number of their militants and forcing the group to retreat west towards the city of Ajdabiya.  BDB immediately issued a statement that was published on their news agency Boshra News threatening France that Libya will turn into a “graveyard for you as it was for your three soldiers”.

Few days later Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement announcing its solidarity with BDB and calling for Libyans to fight against what it called the “oppressors ”[2]. See please Annex.


Most of the French press related the event [3], Le Monde wrote an article about it [4] but none of them explained who the BDB are allied to. Only the English language press gave details of the links between the Benghazi Defense Brigades, Al Qaida and AQIM. The French press qualified them simply as fundamentalists.

According to August 2016 media reports, nearly 30-40 Malian and Algerian AQIM fighters have joined BDB in fighting against the Libyan National Army south of Adjdabiya. Since the establishment of the Benghazi Defense Brigades, dozens of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb ( AQIM ) fighters have traveled to Libya to fight alongside BDB .

November 5th Saraya Media The official media outlet of Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council tweeted “ Two French soldiers killed while Benina Air Base was targeted with a number of grad rockets”

Who are the Benghazi Defense Brigades?

The BDB was established in June 2016 as a militia fighting with Al Qaida associated Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, against the UN-recognized Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army led by Gen Khalifa Hiftar. The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council is a coalition of jihadist militias in Libya.  One the members of the BRSC is Ansar Al Sharia. They were designated by the US government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for their ties with Al Qaida and their role in the 2012 attack against the US compound in Benghazi [5]. They are also thought to be ideologically closer to ISIL than Al Qaida [6]. Even though they are allied with Al Qaida in some cities and with ISIS in others according to French jihadism expert David Thomson [7].

A former leader of Ansar Al Sharia Mohammad Al Zahawi was a leading figure in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council before his death in 2015 [8].

One of the commanders of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Council Ismail Sallabi is a founding member of the Benghazi Defense Brigades.

In an October 2016 interview, BDB commander Mustafa Sharkasi reaffirmed his group’s support for the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council [9].

Qatar support for BDB leaders

Ismail Sallabi, a Benghazi-based militia leader, has been identified as “among the most prominent” BDB leaders[10]. Sallabi was featured in the June 2016 video announcing the official formation of BDB, and has since been named in media reporting as a leader of BDB and other militant groups associated with Al Qaida in Libya[11].

Sallabi is a long time Islamist activist. Arrested and accused by the Qaddafi regime of working to topple the government he was released in 2004 with the help of Qatar. In the 1980s he fought in Afghanistan against Soviet forces and was a leader in the Al Qaida aligned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which was sanctioned by the UN and the US government[12].

Following the 2011 uprising against the Qaddafi regime, Ismail Sallabi became a leader in the February 17thMartyrs Brigade and the Revolutionaries Companies Gathering. Both militias received Qatari aid and arms during the Libyan Revolution according to media reports[13].

In an interview with Reuters Ismail Sallabi confirmed that his forces received weapons from Qatar at the beginning of the Libyan revolution[14]

At the time they were also supported by western intelligence agencies to topple the Qaddafi regime probably before realizing that these Islamist groups had strong links with Al Qaida and AQIM.

In 2012 Libyan officials asked the US government to stop Qatar from sending money and arms to extremist militias in Libya, according to New York Times reporting. Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton urged the Obama administration to address “the Qatar problem” by arming opposition groups,” hoping that would persuade Qataris to stop sending weapons to extremist rebel factions”[15].


Most of Doha’s aid to the Libyan revolt has been guided by Qatar based cleric Ali Sallabi, brother of Ismail. Ali Sallabi is a key conduit of Qatari arms shipments to Libyan militias after the 2011 uprising. He maintained residence in Qatar where he remains active in coordinating political dialogues. He oversaw a conference in Doha of more than 80 Libyan individuals to discuss national reconciliation and political developments in Libya. According to Qatari media reporting, the government of Qatar hosted the conference [16] [17].

Ali Sallabi is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Union of Muslim Scholars a Doha Based organization led by Yusuf Qaradawi.

On July 23 2016 after the French airstrikes against Benghazi Defense Brigades targets, the International Union of Muslim Scholars published an article by the Grand Mufti of Libya, Sadiq Al Ghariani qualifying the attack as “a felony against the homeland in every sense of the word” [18].

Al Ghariani has been identified by BDB as the religious Marja (guide) of the group[19].  He is also praised by AQIM who issued a statement of solidarity with BDB following July 2016 airstrike. AQIM called on Libyan revolutionaries to attack French forces and rally around Ulemas like Al Ghariani who they stated: “has championed knowledge in coming out with the truth in the face of Evil and its cohorts”[20].


In October 2014 Sadiq Al Ghariani was banned from the UK after reports revealed he was providing direct support to Libya Dawn’s takeover of Tripoli [21].  He departed the UK for Qatar, before relocating to Turkey.

In 2012 social media showed a meeting between then Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with radical cleric Sadiq Al-Ghariani [22].



Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) statement

Truly, your steadfastness put the flagrant Western campaign and the French military intervention in Libya to shame when the young revolutionaries, the mujahideen of the Benghazi Defense Brigades, killed three French officers, whose death on Libyan soil the French government later recognized. These events have revealed the depths of the treachery of the foreign agent Hiftar, who kills the children of Derna and the elderly of Benghazi, on which he is waging a fierce war to exterminate all those who have anything to do with the revolution… 

We call on the revolutionaries in Libya, and the Libyan people writ large to press on in their revolution against the oppressors. We call on them to rally around their ulema who speak the truth about the campaign of aggression against the identity and faith of the Muslim people. We also appreciate the courageous position of the learned Sheikh  Al­Sadiq al­Ghariani, Allah preserve him, who championed knowledge in coming out with the truth in the face of Evil and its cohorts. We ask Allah to keep him and his brothers on the path of justice, and make them a bulwark for Shariah.”

[1] Reuters – 20.07.2016 – France says soldiers killed in Libya during intelligence operation

[2] L ibyas Channel – 24.07.2016 – “تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد ببلاد المغرب الإسلامي” يعلن تأييده لـ”سرايا الدفاع عن بنغازي”

[3] BFMTV – 21.07.2016 – Libye: le gouvernement d’union nationale accuse Paris de “violation” du territoire

[4] Le Monde – 20.07.2016 – Trois membres de la DGSE tués en Libye, le gouvernement libyen proteste

[5] U.S. Department of State – 02.01.2014 – Terrorist Designations of Three Ansar al-Shari’a Organizations and Leaders

[6] Rfi – 06.10.2014 – Aaron Zelin: en Libye, Ansar al-Charia n’a «pas subi de défaite»

[7] Twitter – 30.11.2015 – David Thomson

[8] Reuters – 23.01.2016 – Leader of Libyan Islamists Ansar al-Sharia dies of wounds

[9] Twitter https://twitter.com/Ghanem3Salem/status/784413510868537344

[10] Al Jazeera – 07.06.2016 – سرايا بنغازي.. لغم جديد بطريق حفتر

[11] YouTube – 02.06.2016 – بيان رقم ( 1 ) لسرايا الدفاع عن بنغازي

[12] Albawabh News – 25.03.2015 – التنظيمات المتربصة ببوابة مصر الغربية

[13] WSJ – 17.10.2011 – Tiny Kingdom’s Huge Role in Libya Draws Concern

[14] Reuters 04.09.2011 – مقابلة- اسلامي ليبي يطالب اللجنة التنفيذية بالاستقالة

[15] New York Times – 27.02.2016 – A New Libya, With ‘Very Little Time Left’

[16] Akhbar Libya – 03.05.2016 – من يقف وراء مؤتمر المصالحة الليبي في الدوحة ؟

[17] Raya – 04.05.2016 – مؤتمر المصالحة الليبي بالدوحة يدعو لنبذ العنف

[18] IUMS – 23.07.2016 – لمن يكتب تاريخ ليبيا.. يومُ العدوان الفرنسي على بنغازي

[19] Libya Herald – 25.06.2016 – PFG vows to fight new Benghazi militants

[20]  L ibyas Channel – 24.07.2016 – “تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد ببلاد المغرب الإسلامي” يعلن تأييده لـ”سرايا الدفاع عن بنغازي”

[21] The Guardian – 30.10.2014 – Libya’s highest spiritual leader banned from UK over support of Islamists

[22] Facebook – 18.07-2012 – الشيخ تميم بن حمد آل ثاني ولي عهد قطر يقبل رأس الشيخ الصادق الغرياني مفتي ليبيا ..

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