By Noora Ibrahim.
Benghazi, 25 May 2014:
Members of Khalifa Hifter’s self-declared Libyan National Army have been carrying out air reconnaissance missions over . . .[restrict]the eastern town of Derna, trying to root out extremist Islamist elements.
Spokesman for Hifter’s Libyan National Army, Mohammed Hijazi, told the Libya Herald in an exclusive interview that the special missions over Derna were to observe suspected Islamist leaders and activities.
Hijazi said Hifter’s forces, which he referred to as the Libyan Army, were zoning in on extremists in Derna. He said that a number of Algerian and Tunisian Al-Qaeda figures had “taken the town hostage,” adding: “God willing they will be arrested soon.”
Hijazi also warned Islamists not to attempt to smuggle weapons into the town through its port which he said was also being watched.
Derna residents confirmed that low-flying planes have been seen regularly over the town since Friday night.
Derna has become increasingly troubled since the revolution and is now regarded as a haven for Islamist extremists. There have been regular assassinations of security officials in the locale and others have been threatened.
The town was unable to hold elections for the Constitutional Drafting Assembly because of threats and attacks on polling stations and the failure of the government to secure these showed how the town has become a virtual no-go area for state forces.
Sources close to the Local Council say they feel completely abandoned by the government.
Local people say that the dire security situation is made worse by disagreements between Islamist factions within the town. Ansar Al-Sharia, the Council for Islamic Youth in Derna and a group called Tawheed (or Unity) have recently been engaged in a power struggle for control of the town which has terrorised residents. [/restrict]