By Mathieu Galtier.
Derna, 7 November 2013:
The Supreme Security Committee in Tripoli, the Libya Shield No. 1 in Benghazi, various Zintani brigades, Ansar al-Sharia, and so many more – and now, with the Army of the Islamic State of Libya, another name on the long list of militias.
It is too soon to have a clear picture of how strong or how ideologically determined is this group but it appears that Yousef bin Tahir made a proper business plan when launching his group in the very competitive Libyan brigades market. He declared the birth of the brigade on Al Nabaa TV, a channel launched and financed by Qatar, on 31 October. We could see Toyota pick-ups topped with machine guns in a single file in the middle of Derna’s streets, then images of men wearing military uniforms.
A (3,000-man?) army “based on Islam”
“It took me six months to announce publicly the creation of the Army of the Islamic State of Libya,” Youssef bin Tahir told the Libya Herald. “The men had been trained in Derna during that period by former true revolutionaries like myself. I didn’t sleep a lot back then. The members are students, businessmen, teachers, and the like. All of them are from Derna.
“Our goal is simple: implementing security in public buildings, on the streets and for private companies. First in Derna, then in other cities like Benghazi and Sirte, and finally in all Libya –because Islam says it is our duty as Muslims to protect people.”
It is a step-by-step programme which explains the name of the group. Bin Tahir does not want to lead any another type of brigade. He wants to run an new army “based on Islam”.
After the release of Al Nabaa report on social networks, a rumour started claiming that Bin Tahir wanted to “free” Al-Andalus (Spain). “Totally untrue”, he smiled, making him, with his medium-length curly hair and his blue eyes, even younger than his age.
Bin Tahir is highly confident that he can restore security in Derna in just one month. “Actually, right now, I’m able to secure the whole area from Derna to Benghazi”.
Then he mentions a “special group” based in the desert and on boats which have orders to catch African illegal migrants. He claims that his boats arrested illegal migrants on a boat late in October in Lathroon. It could be be the migrant boat referred by this paper.
“They are under our control. We are making investigations about them,” he declares, adding “most of them have diseases like HIV”.
The Libya Herald has been unable to verify any of these assertions.
Bin Tahir refuses to give any figures about the number of men he has or to show his headquarters (the interview took place in a hotel, the Pearl of Derna). This makes it impossible to gain an accurate picture of the brigade’s strength, although an official of Derna claimed that the group had 3,000 men.
“We do different work than Abu Sleem or Ansar Al-Sharia brigade”
Bin Tahir is also very vague about the financial side of his army. “We have received donations from our members. Above all, I spend all my money on it. My family is from Derna but we moved to Benghazi where we own different business, such as car sales.”
Sources in Benghazi confirm that Bin Tahir is a wealthy family and known to be well-educated. “I don’t know how rich they are but the Bin Tahirs from Derna is a big family”, Benghazi Congressman Suleiman Zubi said.
“However how rich he is, nobody can run a brigade with his own money”, a security expert stated. “If the group is really a strong one, they have to get money from government, GNC or outside.”
Bin Tahir is adamant that the Army of the Islamic State of Libya will not be integrated into any Libyan institutions or armed groups. “We have no connection with the government. We are not registered – although I will stand with the authorities against federalism if necessary.”
He explains what he sees his force doing. “We do different work than Abu Sleem or Ansar Al-Sharia [the two main brigades in Derna].
Killing, he says, in not an Islamic way. “The Quran says ‘Allah alone decides the final judgement.’” Bin Tahir, who sports a beard but no moustache, often quotes the Quran to explain his actions. “I will fight any Libyan who doesn’t believe as a Muslim.”
More than an army; an Islamic way of life
He likes to tell how the decision to create the Army of the Islamic State of Libya came to him. He makes it sound like a religious parable.
“One day, I saw an old man trying to fix the car just outside Derna. He was with his family. I asked him why he didn’t seek help in the town. He replied the town was too dangerous. From that day, I decided to leave Benghazi and settle in Derna to bring peace.”
There is more. Bin Tahir describes his methods which cover the whole spectrum of social life. In regard to justice, he concedes that his group is not strong enough to judge criminals but it is when it comes to offenders. “If we catch a car thief, we ask the owner if he wants to be paid back and forgive the thief or if he wants us to file a form waiting for proper trial. The first solution is the best because Islam is all about forgiveness.”
To fix the drug problem – major one in Libya, even before the revolution – he has also his own radical solution. “We pay the drug dealer for all his goods and then we destroy them instead of bombing people like any other brigade is doing.”
The Army of the Islamic State of Libya has another curious rule. To prevent anyone betraying the cause of Islam, some 40 anonymous members, called “observers”, are in deployed to check the behaviour of everyone, included the leader, and to punish them if necessary.
“I’m a successful man”, Bin Tahir proclaims. “I catch the criminals. I will succeed because I use my brain, not only my muscles.”