The city’s population has dwindled in recent years as those who have found the opportunity to get out do so, officials said.
That includes some 200 young men who have traveled to Syria in recent months to join the fight there, according to the local council.
“It’s the emptiness here — there is a lot of time to waste,” said Ebtisam Stieta, a member of the General National Congress (GNC) from Darna. “Most people feel like their lives are restricted, so they think only in terms of the front lines, death, and jihad.”
Over the past year, Stieta said she has lobbied the national authorities in Tripoli relentlessly to bring development opportunities to Darna to preempt the area’s potential slide into a new Yemen or Afghanistan.
“I told the ministers in the meeting that Libya should deal with these extremists first. Why are we waiting for the world to react?” she said, recounting a speech that was televised. The only people who did react were the residents of her home town.
“I immediately got death threats,” she said.
Belgassim, the former Darna bureaucrat, and others said they believed that Darna could still be saved. But awareness of the U.S. election, and President Obama’s promise “to hunt down” the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack, loom large here.
Many said they feared that U.S. pressure to retaliate for the Benghazi attack could push an already precarious situation even further over the edge. Both Sharqi and local officials predicted that a drone strike would earn the militants more friends than foes, drawing the support of foreign jihadists to an easily accessible fight, and turning Libya’s Green Mountains into a new Pakistan.
“If there are drone strikes, people will see it as Libyan sovereignty that’s being threatened,” Stieta said. “It might compel people to join these groups rather than go against them.”