The extremist leader killed Friday was Mohammed al-Zahawi of the Benghazi-based Islamist militant group, Ansar al-Sharia from Libya, which was confirmed by family, and the Libyan Islamist group to Reuters today. Alleged architect of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, al-Zahawi died January 23 from wounds, “suffered when fighting pro-government troops several months ago,” reports Reuters.
The details of al-Zahawi’s injuries coincide with the group’s leader disappearing from public view around September, 2014, and with rumors from last year that claimed he was wounded or dead. A number of Twitter posts and websites both “confirmed” and denied those earlier rumors, which claimed that al-Zahawi was either injured or “killed in action” during a clash with other groups in Benghazi.
The Middle East Eye and Libya Herald both reported on October 23, 2014 that al-Zahawi died, the Middle East Eye said it happened in June, the Libya Herald the week before. Both outlets have since updated their stories since Ansar al-Sharia confirmed its extremist leader killed on Saturday.
Some of the earlier “confirmed dead” claims praised al-Zahawi as a martyr, (via Google Translate), while others denied he was dead or injured at all.
Amir of #Ansar_alSharia in #Libya, Muhammad al Zahawi, allegedly killed in action yesterday http://t.co/Lc4MDSBaYQ
— Luca Gambardella (@GambLuca) November 23, 2014
There is NO truth in the rumors circulating that Shaykh Muhammad Al-Zahawi was killed.
— TheMaghrebiNote (@MaghrebiNote) October 11, 2014
The Associated Press reports via ABC that Ansar al-Sharia denied all claims of al-Zahawi’s rumored injuries and death. That was until now, when the militant group’s official Twitter account posted Saturday.
“It gave condolences and vowed to take revenge and ‘shake the seat of power.’ The statement included a photo allegedly showing al-Zahawi after his death.”
A number of al-Zahawi followers have since tweeted photos and condolences to Ansar Al-Sharia.
The Noble Knight Dismounts Shaykh Muhammad al-Zahawi (Rahimahullah) Ameer of Ansar al-Shariah fil Benghazi pic.twitter.com/jrU3NBgiTb
— Fadhil Haroon (@FadhilHaroon) January 23, 2015
It appears, however, that Twitter has since suspended the militant group’s official feed, although there are a number of possible secondary accounts. This is not the first time Twitter has suspended the group’s account, either.
Threat Matrix reported in October, 2013, that Ansar Al-Sharia opened its first Twitter account, and five days later Twitter suspended it, according to a tweet by American Jihad Watch.
Ansar Al’ Sharia media was suspended, but they have a secondary account @AAKBARNAS that they may use – no tweets yet. pic.twitter.com/EisAoCCQee
— American Jihad Watch (@Watcherone) November 5, 2014
The tweet notified followers of the issue and of a second account for the group as @AAKBARNAS, but that’s since been suspended as well. The suspensions are likely because the group’s message is one of violence, which Twitter prohibits in its Abusive Behavior Policy.
The United States added Ansar Al-Sharia to its official terrorist watch list in January, 2014, according to Al Jazeera, a full two years after the violent attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
After petitioning the United Nations Security Council alongside Britain and France to follow suit with an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze, the UN instated the requested sanctions in November, 2014.
The sanctions came with the allegations that Ansar Al-Sharia Benghazi has ties to al-Qaeda, as evidenced by its sister group Ansar Al-Sharia Derna’s allegiance to the extremist militants, and that it runs camps that train fighters from foreign nations in Syria, Iraq, and Mali. Ansar Al-Sharia Derna was also part of 2012 attack against the U.S. Embassy.
Despite Ansar Al-Sharia having confirmed its extremist leader killed, the fighting continues between this and other radical Islamist groups in a bid to control areas of Benghazi. This includes a number of rebel groups that rose from the ashes of the ousting of Muammuar Gaddafi, including Ansar al-Sharia’s sister group Ansar Al-Sharia Derna, and former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar.