Al Qaeda-linked militants in eastern Libya declared a holy war on a local Islamic State affiliate Wednesday after one of their senior leaders was shot dead by masked gunmen, setting off clashes between the rival jihadist groups that left 11 people dead on both sides.
The clashes erupted after gunmen opened fire on Nasr Akr, an al Qaeda-inspired militant once jailed in the UK on terrorism charges. The 55-year-old veteran jihadist, who fought in Afghanistan, was killed along with his aide.
Akr's group, known as the Shura Council of Darna's Jihadists, announced his killing in a statement on Wednesday, blaming it on Islamic State militants. It accused the IS group of "tyranny and criminality," and vowed to wage "holy war against them until none of them are left." It also called on residents to rise up against the extremist group.
The ensuing clashes killed at least nine IS militants and two from the Shura Council, including Salem Derbi, the commander of the so-called Abu Salem Brigade, which has history of enmity with IS.
The IS group began as an al Qaeda affiliate but had a bitter falling out with the global jihadist network in 2014. The two groups have also clashed in Syria.
An IS affiliate seized control of Darna last year after veteran militants returning from Iraq and Syria united the city's fractured extremist factions and killed off rivals.
Derbi belongs to a generation of Islamic militants who turned Darna into a jihadist stronghold in the 1980s and 1990s during an insurgency against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Darna was the main source of Libyan jihadists and suicide bombers who joined the insurgency in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003. Entire brigades of Darna natives fight in Syria's civil war.
Despite his jihadist past, Derbi and his followers once secured a visit to the city by Libya's elected leaders, signifying support for a democratic government, albeit one that would enforce Islamic law.