Exclusive interview with the Head of Media Office of Derna Shura Council Mohammed Idris Taher, well-known as Deeskah
For renegade General Khalifa Haftar and his puppets, those who oppose Dignity Operation are terrorists! They can be ISIS affiliates, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists, or Muslim Brotherhood members. Derna Shura Council is no exception. This council was categorized by Dignity Operation as an ISIS group, but later after the defeat of ISIS in Derna by council fighters, the categorization has been changed! Now, Dignity Operation and its affiliated media claim that Derna Shura fighters are a group of Al-Qaeda who are supported by Muslim Brotherhood!
The Libya Observer has spoken to the Head of Media Office of Derna Shura Council Mohammed Idris Taher, well-known as Deeskah, and had this exclusive interview:
Libya Observer: What is Derna Shura Council and what is it formed of?
Deeskah: Derna Shura Council has resulted from the persistent armed resistance that came after the start of February revolution, which aimed at toppling the source of oppression and persecution and replace them with justice and equality, thus establishing a rule that does not act by favoritism among the Libyan people. Derna youths were one of the significant elements in the revolution and part of the sacrifices made to see the revolution successful. Therefore, with the passing of the last five years and with what Derna particularly went through, Derna Shura Council of Mujahedeen was formed. The council is formed from Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, Saladin Brigade, Revolutionaries Council, and many youths who believe in the February revolution principles.
Libya Observer: Dignity Operation, led by Khalifa Haftar, and some media outlets accuse you of being terrorists and part of Al-Qaeda and say that you have foreign agenda. Are you at all linked to AL-Qaeda or any other groups?
Deeskah: When Derna Shura Council of Mujahedeen controlled the city and kicked out IS militants from it in no more than three days, escaping to the outlying district of Al-Fatayeh, it was in a strong position and sent many messages to everyone. The most important message was that the council had nothing to do with any groups or organizations outside Libya, saying that Libya is the only thing it cares about. Therefore, we emphasize that we are Libyans from Derna. We gathered to end the oppression, thus our words united targeting the defeat of the enemies, and so our actions made the cut with our words. As a result, we have never pledged allegiance to any foreign party or organization. Regarding Haftar’s allegations, they are countless. After IS militants retreated from Derna, Haftar had not excuse left for him to enter the city except promoting the term Al-Qaeda on the media so that he can bomb us. Even if the council’s role ended and an alternative one replaced it but came against Haftar’s mind, then he would definitely find many excuses to toss it into the circle of terrorism. In short, we have made it crystal clear that we are not linked to Al-Qaeda nor are we linked to Muslim Brotherhood, yet we are some youths from Derna who gasp for stability and security in all Libya, and particularly in Derna.
Libya Observer: You are accused of being against the efforts to build the Libyan state and the Libyan police and army. How do you respond to those accusations?
Deeskah: We are not against the army and the police or against the state institutions. We say so not only by words but also by actions, which are so many. After our victories in Derna, we invited all the honest people from the security institution to come back and reactivate the judicial, security and service departments in the city. Some of them responded positively and a lot more feared to respond being afraid of getting arrested or chased. However, the Derna police station was reopened again by security personnel known for their qualification and experience. In addition, the municipal guard and traffic police started as well their duties in the city, drawing a wide smile on the faces of the Derna residents as they saw the state institutions were taking shape for the first time in five years. Nonetheless, some days later after the municipal guard had been reactivated, two of its members were arrested for being part of its reactivation and they are jailed in Qirnada prison, which is under the command of Khalifa Haftar, until today.
Libya Observer: Some accuse you of being flatterer to ISIS and that you did not face them militarily despite your city’s suffering saying you only fought them when they assassinated your senior leaders. What do you say about those accusations?
Deeskah: We do not deny that Derna has gone through many security violations and that Derna’s residents have been terribly terrified. After that, IS militants took full hold of the city. However, to be fair, we must go back in time to December 2013, when Derna locals took to the streets calling for deformation of the security formations, urging the then-government of Ali Zaidan to prevail security and stability in the city by forming state security departments. Zaidan promised he would do what the locals demanded of him, then the residents took to the streets again and called for putting an end to the brigades in their city, so we were the first ones to act by the residents' call. We left the security headquarters empty and so did Zaidan as he left the city and all its squares void of the least security forces. As a result, the cells loyal to ISIS group, especially those who came back from Syria and Iraq, started to return to Derna to lay the foundation of ISIS group in the city. After that, they assassinated tens of police officers, judges, lawmakers, and media figures in the city. They also assassinated some members from Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, which is the core component of the Derna Shura Council, because they knew well that we and they have completely different ideologies and stances. We then announced the formation of Derna Shura Council of Mujahideen at the very same time Haftar was trying to plunge the city into war under the pretext of terrorism. We were ready to fight them, but when ISIS wrongdoings mounted and started to violate the security and safety of the locals, we announced publically in a well-known statement named “An Ultimatum for the Takfiris” that we warn this group of any more violations of Derna residents’ safety. Therefore, when the first fight against ISIS was due, we save no efforts to kill and defeat those terrorists despite Haftar’s attempts to help the militants out of the battlefield by attacking our forces while Daesh was being sourly defeated.
Libya Observer: How do you describe your war on IS?
Deeskah: War on ISIS group needs fixed and clear faith not bright slogans. We saw that they were oppressors just as Haftar was with Derna residents. The ISIS group used to kill people on the ground in Derna and Haftar’s warplanes used to kill them from the sky.
Libya Observer: How do you describe the suicide and explosive attacks done by ISIS group in Libya?
Deeskah: Suicide attacks are a horrifying method used by ISIS to terrify its enemy and weaken the opponents’ morale, which is a tricky method that doesn’t differentiate between an attacker and an innocent person. We had been attacked by many of those suicide attacks, sometimes we managed to foil them, but some other times, we were hit by them.
Libya Observer: Today, after the defeat of ISIS, Dignity Operation forces, led by Khalifa Haftar, are eying the control of Derna and threaten to bombard your locations. In your opinion, why?
Deeskah: According to the political scene, Haftar has become a different person than he was before. His project became so weak especially as the war in Benghazi got prolonged. In one city, Haftar used thousands of fighters and citizens, yet he could not have it under his control. He is now trying to make Derna under his grip along with Benghazi so that he can negotiate in the future using them to make the world believe that all of Libya’s east is under his command and he can split if he had to. Therefore, Derna project is hindering Libya’s division and working on maintaining its unity. Dignity Operation forces have most of what they claimed and it is funny how they claimed that they freed Derna from ISIS, saying on the media that they stormed ISIS hideouts in Derna, then in reality their warplanes bomb the city. It is ridiculous also how Dignity Operation forces said they freed Al-Fatayeh district and then they warn citizens of staying in the district or passing through it as it is a target for Dignity Operation warplanes. Don’t these inconsistent stances make those claims just as sarcastic as they could ever be?
Libya Observer: But Dignity forces officially alleged they had kicked ISIS out of Al-Fatayeh mountains. Is that right? Did Dignity Operation forces take part in the war against ISIS?
Deeskah: Dignity forces took part in supporting ISIS even if this support was not direct or public. After the ISIS group was trapped in a very small area and after we went out in an all-out war against, Haftar’s forces entered from the western entrance and clashed with the council’s fighters, which obliged us to end the battle against ISIS and push Haftar’s forces out. Haftar’s forces arrested the injured and held the ambulance then sold it in the black market. Moreover, after months of suffering, we could at last besiege ISIS in a small geographic area and its strength was waning; however, Haftar’s forces blockd the road that links Derna to Al-Fatayeh district from the southern entrance and thus besieging our forces on Al-Heelah frontline. Then one evening, ISIS carried out a violent attack on the council’s forces on the frontline and after the ISIS militants escaped from Al-Fatayeh district after the besiegement, Derna residents were so happy that ISIS dark era has come to an end going out to the public squares celebrating the victory. Yet, their joy had not exceeded some hours when Haftar’s warplanes shelled the revolutionaries’ camps. Moreover, since the announcement of completely liberating Derna from ISIS on April 20 until today, Haftar’s warplanes carried out more than 50 airstrikes and in one of them, two civilians were killed.
Libya Observer: In its latest statement, the council said it is going to take the battle outside Derna and will drop the defense strategy to use the attack one. To what extent is the council capable to do so and is it able to attack Haftar’s militias instead of being content with just defending itself against them?
Deeskah: Derna Shura Council had proposed many initiatives aiming at reconciliation and turning over a new leaf by striking peace with the districts on the coat-tails of Derna. After we defeated IS and kicked it out of the city, we closed all the security checkpoints that ISIS used to have with the neighboring districts and then we opened the road for everyone. After that, we called for reconciliation and we kept on proposing initiatives repeatedly. However, after Haftar’s forces were readied on the fringes of Derna, equipped massively with their weapons to attack Derna, this statement came hoping that the wise can fathom that war is painful and that to start a war is easy, but to end it is never so. The statement was directed at the wise asking them to have a decisive word that can push Haftar away from Derna. Regarding our fight against Haftar, it won’t be worse or any tougher than the fight against ISIS militants, who were defeated by our council and Derna’s youths with the help of Allah.
Libya Observer: What is your stance about the current political conflict in the country? Which side are you on?
Deeskah: We are watching the ongoing developments, but we do not have a political party or representatives for the council. In fact, we are not involved in politics because our aim is to secure and stabilize Derna and provide its residents with their needs. However, regarding loyalty, Libya has considerably split into three governments; the parliament’ government, the General National Congress’s government, and the Presidential Council one. Now each one of them appears clearly split. Therefore, we have no loyalty to any of the three because the political track is hazardous and changeable and we only want to secure Derna.
Libya Observer: Is there any connection between you and the forces fighting ISIS in Sirte now? Are you ready to give a helping hand if you were asked to?
Deeskah: Colonel Basit Al-Shaari and Lieutenant Muftah Hamza, who are among those that believed in Derna’s case and came to fight alongside Derna’s residents against ISIS militants, are now in Misrata.
Colonel Basit is from Tobruk and came with a group of revolutionaries accompanying the deceased colonel, Mohammed Bu Ghafaier from Al-Bayda, and others, to help Derna out of its ordeal. He is now in Misrata recounting the tactics of ISIS militants to the forces in there and telling them how to deal with them. There is no harm in helping any Libyan national to eradicate this criminal group, which considers the Libyan blood valueless.
Libya Observer: How do you describe the situation in Derna today?
Deeskah: We have invited all foreign and Arab media outlets to visit Derna and report what they see regarding the current state of affairs in the city because what people from outside Derna see and what journalists report will be truer. Derna is now living in an unprecedented stability. If we say that the crime rate in Dern is zero, life basics are there and various activities are being held weekly as well as civil societies are competing to put out their best so that all takes part in making Derna a real model. Anyone can come to Derna and see if what we are saying is true or not.