Profiling Ansar al-Shari’a Benghazi & Ansar al-Shari’a Darnah

This analysis is conducted as part of the Son of Media Safety & Security’s Project on War and Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Learn more here.

Ansar al-Sharia LogoAnsar al-Shari’a in Benghazi & Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah

Four decades of repressive authoritarian rule by Muammar Qadhafi and the subsequent events surrounding the bloody revolution to rid Libya of its dictator, created an environment endemic with the growth of the many extremist Islamic militias that now roam the country. Two such groups include the AQ affiliates of Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS) Benghazi and Darnah.

AAS Benghazi and Darnah were reportedly formed separately during the final stages of the Libyan revolution. Founding members of the groups included those of the many other militias in Libya. Both AAS groups have been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets that are not deemed to be conforming to or accepting of Shari’a. The groups have also been involved in frequent assassinations of security forces as well as both successful and attempted assassinations of Libyan and foreign political figures. The two groups have been linked to the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya.

Since their establishment, the groups provide military training, security patrols, outreach and educational activities and public works services such as trash pickups. AAS Benghazi and Darnah show evidence of continuing to grow, including improvement in military capabilities as well as the acquisition of military equipment. They have also aligned themselves with the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council in order to create allies.

Founding member Muhammad al-Zahawi repeatedly urged the rejection of any Libyan government not based on Shari’a.

Because the two AAS groups do not often claim immediate responsibility for attacks and the existence of many competing armed Islamist groups in Libya, it is difficult to link many activities to AAS Benghazi and Darnah. Some of their activities include:

  • 02/2011: Libyan revolution begins
  • 08/2011: Qadhafi loyalist forces still in control of Benghazi
  • 10/2011: Qadhafi is killed in Battle of Sirte, last battle and end of Libyan revolution
  • 11/2011: Bombings and destruction against Sufi Muslim mosques by extremist Islamic groups
  • 02/2012: AAS Benghazi reportedly formally established
  • 06/2012: AAS rally in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square, displaying hundreds of vehicles with mounted weaponry. Rally aims to demand implementation of Shari’a
  • 07/2012: General National Congress (GNC) formed
  • 08/2012: GNC votes to replace itself with 200 member Council of Representatives (COR)
  • 01/2014: U.S. Department of State designates AAS Benghazi and Darnah as FTOs
  • 05/2014: General Khalifah Haftar begins armed campaign, “Operation Dignity,” against Islamic forces in Eastern Libya. Operation is unauthorized by the GNC
  • 06/2014: COR elections take place and seated two months later

Today, Libya seems to be following the post-revolution trend of falling deeper into the struggle between pro and anti Islamist forces. The lack of a stable and cohesive government, armed militias competing for power and unauthorized attacks against groups such as AAS with heavy collateral damage continue to fuel some popular support from the Libyan people. However, the strict stance of AAS in Benghazi and Darnah against alternatives to the adoption of Shari’a has the potential to create more local enemies than popular support.


  • Muhammad al-Zahawi: Founder, KIA 23 January 2015
  • Ahmed Abu Khattalah: Sr. Leader, reportedly seen at the Beghazi Embassy attack
  • Abu Sufian bin Qumu: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee and associate of Usama bin Laden

Goals Overtly Declared

  • Establishing Shari’a in Libya
  • Eliminating Western influence in Libya and the Muslim world

Membership (Estimated/Approximate)

  • High 100s to Low 1000s based on publicly available information. The U.S. government has not made its strength assessment unclassified

Base of Operations

  • Eastern Libya, Benghazi, Darnah (Darne), Sirte

Map of Libya

Funding Sources

  • Unknown

Marketing Vehicles

  • Social media
  • al-Raya Media Productions Foundation, dedicated to publicizing community and public works activities

Also Known As (AKA)

  • Not Applicable