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Militants form new coalition in Libya's Derna to thwart army attack

The newly formed Mujahedeen Shura Council says it wants to avoid Benghazi's fate
Libyan army units have been stepping up their presence near Derna (MEE / Hassan Morajea)

Militias in the eastern Libyan town of Derna have formed a new coalition in an attempt to resist a widely-expected assault by pro-government forces that now control most supply roads into the volatile coastal town.

Derna has been under militant control since 2012, and is recently believed to have become a hub for Islamic State-linked groups who have tried to declare a caliphate in Derna.

"Everybody saw what happened in Benghazi: disaster; institutions destroyed; houses demolished; mosques and universities burned by the criminal hands of Haftar's supporters," said the newly formed Mujahedeen Shura Council.

Forces loyal to former rogue general Khalifa Haftar – who was recently reintegrated back into the regular army – as well as the Tobruk-based parliament, the House of Representatives, are fighting for control of Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.

While they have made inroads into Benghazi in recent weeks, and managed to push out Ansar al-Sharia and other militant groups from much of Libya’s eastern capital, they have as yet failed to retake the capital that was won by Misratan-led forces in August. A string of recent airstrikes by Haftar’s forces, which amongst other targets have also hit the capital’s Mitiga airport, have failed to dislodge the rival Tripoli-backed parliament.

However, army troops loyal to the internationally recognised Tobruk-based parliament, have begun preparing for an assault on Derna, hoping that a victory there will help turn the tide firmly in their favour.

In its statement issued late on Friday, the Mujahedeen Shura Council called on everyone in Derna to join the new coalition to try and ward off the assault.

It also addressed all militants in Benghazi, saying: "We are with you in the war against the criminal Haftar and his soldiers".

Ahead of the announcement, Islamic State-linked and al-Qaeda inspired groups held a military parade in Derna, with tanks and combatants carrying black flags.

Since the 2011 uprising against former strongman Muammer Gaddafi Libya has been sliding deeper into crisis, with rival militias and two rival parliament vying for control.

Western countries have been increasingly worried that the political turmoil could provide fertile ground for militant groups like IS, although UN mediation efforts to try and bring about a political solution have so far come to little.