Libya: Who was killed at the Baghlah junction?
The Libyans stir confusion claiming to have killed the Algerian-Tunisian terrorist Khaled Chaïb
On May 29, a picture was published by ‘Operation Bonyan al-Marsous Media Center’, the media channel reporting for the GNA-backed coalition dominated by Misrata militias fighting the so-called Islamic State in Sirte and its surroundings. With the publishing of the picture of a dead ISIS fighter it was also claimed that the individual in question was Khaled Chaïb also known as ‘Lokmane Abou Sakhr’, an Algerian jihadist and alleged leader of the AQIM-affiliate Katibat Uqba Bin Nafaâ (KUBN) active in Tunisia’s Kasserine mountains. The individual on the picture was killed in clashes between Misratan forces and ISIS in the area of Baghlah junction south of Abu Grein according to the statement released together with the published photo. The claim by the Libyans have stirred a lot of confusion since Lokmane Abou Sakhr was killed on March 28, 2015 in a counter-terrorism operation conducted by the National Guard in Sidi Aïch, Gafsa, and the confirmation on his death announced the following day by Tunisian Prime Minister Habid Essid. The presence and involvement of U.S. Special Operations forces in this operation has been highlighted recently by The Washington Post.
Statement by the Media Center for ‘Operation Bonyan al-Marsous’
The facial attributes of the person on the picture can possibly be mistaken for Lokmane Abou Sakhr as shown in the pictures below for comparison.
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Ouf Abou Mujahed, brother of late KUBN leader Lokmane Abou Sakhr
So who is the ISIS fighter killed in Baghlah about a week ago? According to well-informed sources is the individual in question actually no one less than Khaled Chaïb’s (Lokmane Abou Sakhr) little brother, Mourad Chaïb known by his ‘nom de guerre’ Ouf Abou Mujahed. Chaïb the younger obviously originates just like his brother from El Ma Labiodh located in Tébessa province, Algeria, close to the Tunisian border and Kasserine’s Châambi mountains. The following pictures of Mourad Chaïb have been obtained exclusively by MENASTREAM.
Following the death of Lokmane Abou Sakhr in the Sidi Aïch operation, Katibat Uqba Bin Nafaâ (KUBN) released a statement threatening revenge, a threat that was followed by an attack against an army patrol in Sbeïtla near Mount Mghila on April 7, 2015, an attack that resulted in the killing of 5 soldiers and injuring 4 others. It is said that Mourad Chaïb was involved in this attack.
The alleged involvement in the ‘Sbeïtla attack’ also raises the question if Mourad Chaïb sided with the group active in the Mount Mghila area that pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the so-called Islamic State, thus leaving KUBN for Jund al-Khilafah, a move that could explain him all of sudden showing up in Libya fighting within the ranks of ISIS. A lot of things speaks against this theory, first of all, Mourad was like his brother in the core of the Uqba Bin Nafâa Brigade for years, further as an Algerian he belongs to those that have tended to stay loyal to AQIM with the group’s cradle in Algeria as a continuation of GSPC, thus not pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS. The Uqba Bin Nafâa Brigade also have close crossborder cooperation with AQIM’s Katibat el Feth el Moubine based in Tébessa, hence the same area from where Mourad originates. It is still unclear who the person killed in Baghlah actually was, Tunisian authorities do not rush to get their citizens or residents involved in terrorism identified or DNA-tested, and Mourad Chaïb’s whereabouts remains unknown.
Five on a quest but one vanished
In late January this year, a group of five terrorists reportedly left Mount Mghila, later to be found in the mountainous area in the southern part of the Gabès governorate, more precise in the area of Beni Zelten-Tounine after a shepherd signaled to security about the presence of suspicious individuals, possibly terrorists. So what was this group doing in southern Gabès? There are two reasonable explanations, first, that they were about to join terrorists in Ben Guerdane before the launch of an attack on the city which later came to happen, second, they were about to leave Tunisia to join ISIS in the Libyan perimeter. Anyhow, the group didn’t manage to reach any of their potential destinations, Tunisian security forces soon intervened and tracked down four of the terrorists, killing three and arresting one. Among those killed were two Tunisians and one Algerian, and the individual arrested another Algerian, who following the arrest have been cooperative by guiding the security to the corpse of a buried terrorist at Jebel Salloum and providing additional information.
Although the security managed to ‘neutralize’ four of the group a fifth was still at large, the Ministry of Interior issued a search warrant for the concerned individual named as Mohamed Salah Ben Abdallah Ben Belgacem Dhibi, a person who the Ministry of Interior has issued search warrants for before for suspected involvement in several terrorism-related cases. If Dhibi managed to reach Libya and if that was his planned destination is still unclear, but both Mourad Chaïb and Mohamed Dhibi are worthy the speculations with regard to the unknown individual killed near the Baghlah junction.
The lines between ISIS-linked groups & AQIM-affiliates in Tunisia and Algeria are blurry, maybe clearer before but now definitely fading. Both with regard to the closeness of the operational areas, but also the local contexts, with the groups being increasingly pressured by the army and the security on both sides of the Tunisian-Algerian border. Both this increased pressure and shared interests connected to the smuggling of arms and other criminal activities have somewhat enabled a rapprochement between the two rivaling terrorist franchises of AQIM and ISIS in this specific local context. This hypothesis is to some extent confirmed by the connections between terrorists across the Tunisian territory, with emphasis on ISIS-linked terrorists associated with Katibat al-Battar and others active in Ben Guerdane and Libya with links to terrorists entrenched in the Kasserine Mountains. After all regardless of which group we speak about active in Tunisia or which label they go by, they all emerged from the same substratum of Ansar al-Shariaa.