Libyan warplane ‘shot down by jihadists’ over Derna

Libya Channel

A Libyan air force warplane crashed on Monday after coming under fire as it attacked Islamic State group positions near Derna, army officials have said.

The pilot of the downed MiG-23 jet, Yunis al-Dinali, survived the crash, and footage of him arriving at Labraq airbase circulated on social media. According to a Libya Channel correspondent he was targeting Area 400 – a southern suburb of Derna known to house jihadi positions.

There were contradicting reports on what caused the near-fatal incident. Libyan army spokesperson Abdelkarim Sabra told Libya Channel that “a technical problem” was behind the crash, which occurred just west of Derna.

But Air Force Commander Saqr al-Jarushi said the plane had been shot down by Al-Qaeda-linked militants as the jet targeted IS and other militias across the Derna area, home to both AQ and IS bases.

AQ-aligned jihadi group Ansar Al Sharia released a statement confirming that their group fired at the jet. The AQ-affiliated fighters are part of a larger jihadi coalition – the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council – which last year chased IS out of town but is still fighting the army as well.

Jihadis also published images of the plane wreckage.

The incident came just one day after four civilians were killed in Derna in mystery airstrikes on a medical facility, a medical academy and a mosque in Bab Tobruk, a neighborhood of Derna not known to host any IS positions.

The army denied any involvement in these first strikes. Jarushi said that deadly sortie was carried out by a “neighboring country,” in a thinly-veiled reference to Egypt. A local commander on the other hand claimed that labelled missile pieces found suggested the strikes had been carried out by the UAE.

Both countries are believed to have previously carried out airstrikes in Libya.

Both rival Libyan governments, as well as the recently formed (and still incomplete) unity government have strongly condemned Sunday’s airstrikes. The Presidency Council of the unity government spoke of a “criminal action” that killed innocent civilians. The Interim Government in Bayda meanwhile speculated that it was an attempt to “mix up cards”and discredit legitimate State institutions such as the army (by making believe it was the Libyan air force that carried out the strikes).

In early January, a MiG-23 came down in the eastern city of Benghazi. The army reported a technical problem but IS claimed to have shot it down.

Also on Monday US President Barack Obama and Italian President Sergio Mattarella met to discuss efforts to combat IS and its burgeoning second caliphate in Libya.

During a meeting in the Oval Office, Obama and Mattarella talked about the need to help Libya form a united government.

“That will allow us to help them build up their security capacity and to push back against efforts by ISIL to gain a foothold in that country,” Obama said after the meeting, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State.

Libya has so far failed to form a full unity government amid internal divisions and resistance from both sides of the 18-month civil war.

A UN-brokered peace deal signed by the country’s warring factions in December installed a presidency council tasked with forming a joint cabinet. As per the peace agreement the joint body requires the endorsement of the Tobruk-based internationally-recognized parliament – the House of Representatives – to function legally.

The council, chaired by prime minister-designate Faiez al-Sarraj, submitted a 32-member unity government on 19 January but it was rejected by the HoR six days later for being too large and impractical. The body gave him ten days to form a smaller cabinet.

Sarraj was supposed to submit the shorter list of names on Wednesday for approval. But on Monday the former businessman requested another week.

In this article