Derna Residents Forced to Pledge Allegiance to ISIS or Face Death

An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya October 3, 2014. Stringer/REUTERS

ISIS militants in the Libyan town of Derna will force its residents to pledge allegiance after an upcoming religious lecture with those who choose not to punished by death, an activist with contacts inside the terror group has revealed.

Speaking exclusively to Newsweek, an activist, who declined to be named for safety reasons, detailed the group's upcoming religious lecture entitled The Start and The End which was announced in advertisements spread around the town.

The activist's source within ISIS revealed that, after this lecture, the date of which is so far unknown, the group intends to request that the town's citizens pledge allegiance to the group in order to boost its membership numbers, or they will be considered to be disbelievers and be killed.

"The situation is really, really bad nowadays. They are going to ask all people to declare their allegiance to the caliphate and if they don't do it they will punish them," the activist says. "A friend of mine who is working with ISIS said that they will force people to go to ISIS and declare because they want their help in the war."

"The people have already decided on this part. They will not go, they will not participate and they will keep themselves in their houses," the activist adds. "[ISIS] will kill them [if they don't pledge]. If you don't join them it's like apostasy, you will not be a believer."

The revelation comes as ISIS continues to tighten its grip on the town and its residents, crushing any form of opposition under the group's rule. Last week, three brothers of the Harir family - Mohamed, Ali and Faraj - were publicly crucified near the group's Islamic court, in photos circulated online, while at least two Harir sisters and a fourth brother were also killed by ISIS militants after clashes between the family and the group.

The activist, who witnessed the crucifixion of the three brothers, says that Derna is becoming a town that he does not recognise any more.

"They took them [the Harir brothers] and crucified them near the court," the activist reveals. "They were kept for five hours and then some of the elders came and took them to bury them. For the first time, I was thinking that I was not in Libya, it's like you are in Syria or Iraq."

The murder of the Harir family members reportedly occurred after ISIS accused one of the family members of supporting the Libyan government and demanded that he be handed over, a request which the family refused, according to the Libya Herald.

One of the sisters, Faiza, killed the leader of ISIS's military operations in the town, Hassan Boudheheb, an eyewitness told the activist. She was injured in the clashes before being taken to hospital where ISIS militants shot and killed her, the activist reports. This incident could not be independently verified.

The revelation of the impending forced pledge within Derna, coupled with the crucifixion of the Harir family, is likely a strategy used by the group to reassert their authority over the city's residents and force them to pledge allegiance out of fear for their safety, says Michael Horowitz, senior analyst at the geopolitical risk consultancy Max Security Solutions.

"If [ISIS] are to do that, it's that they think they have showed that there is no choice," he says. "They probably feel that the grip of terror that they have is enough now to have people scared and have people come in and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State."

"It sends a clear message that if you do not pledge allegiance to ISIS you are not just endangering yourself, you're endangering your own family," he adds. "I think people have no choice, the people that did not pledge allegiance to IS before, they will have to do it."

Last year, the radical Islamic Youth Shura Council declared Derna Wilyat Barqa (the ancient province of Barqa), an "Islamic emirate" and therefore an extension of the Iraqi-Syrian caliphate claimed by the terror group. The town has since witnessed beheadings, summary executions and assassinations and crackdown on personal freedoms opposed to the group's radical ideology, such as drinking and smoking.

An ideological rival to ISIS, the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, remain in the town but Derna, situated between the coastal cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, has become the terror group's operational hub with foreign fighters flocking to a number of training camps on its outskirts.