The leader of the Omar Mukhtar Brigade, Ziyad Balaam, was a terrorist connected with Al-Qaeda in Ain Zara. On Wednesday, March 18, militants of the GNA, along with Syrian mercenaries (transferred by Turkey to Tripoli earlier), attacked LNA positions in Ain Zara. However, the military succeeded in repulsing the attack, which eliminated 36 terrorists, including six high ranking GNA field commanders.
Ziyad Balaam had been classified on the UN sanction list because of his terrorist activities. The group, to which Ziyad Balaam belonged – Ansar al-Sharia – was designated by the UN as the Al-Qaida affiliated militant group.
Ansar al-Sharia is one of the most violent Salafist militias that has been operating in Libya since 2012. The main goal of the group is to transform Libya into an “Islamic State” in accordance with sharia. According to the United Nations, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya supervised training camps in the country “mainly for the benefit of Al-Qaida associated groups in Syria and in Iraq”.
Although Ansar al-Sharia denied any official connection, the group’s former emir Mohamed al-Zahawi openly praised al-Qaida in a 2012 BBC interview. In 2014, after the launch of the “Operation Dignity” by General Haftar, a part of Ansar al-Sharia terrorists defected and were integrated into the ISIS (including the founder of Ansar al-Sharia Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu and the militia’s senior sharia official Abu Abdullah al-Libi).
Ziyad Balaam had been closely collaborating with the GNA of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. A member of al-Qaida, one of the field commanders of the so-called radical-Sunni “Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura” – in September 2012, as part of a group of jihadists from Ansar al-Sharia, attacked the American Consulate in Benghazi.
Ziyad Balaam had been heading the gang formation of the “Benghazi Defense Brigade”, which consists of fighters from the unit formed in 2016, with the group quickly declaring its loyalty to the Government of National Accord.
In the same year, the “Benghazi Defense Brigade” attempted to repel the Oil Crescent from the LNA, but was defeated. This attack was actively supported by Fathi Bashaga, the current Interior Minister of the GNA.
Ziyad Balaam had lived in Misrata until April 2019. After the LNA announced the beginning of the final phase of its anti-terrorist operation, Balaam moved to Tripoli, where he joined the ranks of GNA field commanders. Throughout the year, he commanded militant groups in Ain Zara.
After the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012, Turkey officially recognized this group as terrorists. But after Ziayad Balaam entered the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura, Ankara dropped all claims against him. He started making regular trips to Istanbul, which intensified in 2018 and became regular until recently. After his latest injury, he was sent from Tripoli to an Istanbul hospital where he died according to a version of his demise circulating on social media.
As per LNA sources, he had played an active role in transferring Syrian jihadist groups to Tripoli through Turkey and had been integrating them into the GNA’s armed forces to fight against General Haftar.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published an investigation in which it was noted that Turkey had proposed a salary of 2 000 to 2 500 USD to jihadists for the three-month-contract for fighting on the side of GNA. According to the Observatory, nearly 2 400 Syrian mercenaries and terrorists had already relocated from northern Syria to Tripoli. It added that about 1 700 other recruits had already arrived in Turkey to take training courses before being shipped off to Libya.