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Shelling kills 5 at Libya rally against UN peace deal: Medics

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UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon

At least five people were killed and 30 wounded Friday in Benghazi when rockets hit protesters who gathered in Libya’s second city to demonstrate against a UN-proposed peace deal, medics said.

Hundreds of people had gathered in the centre of the eastern city to protest against a power-sharing agreement proposed by UN envoy Bernardino Leon.

A volley of shells hit the rally “killing at least five people and wounding 30 others”, a medic said.

“The exact toll could be much higher as medics are still trying to collect human remains from the site”.

The Benghazi Medical Centre said on its official Facebook page that it had received two bodies and treated 20 wounded.

Another hospital in the city, Al-Jalaa, also said on Facebook that it had received three bodies and had treated 10 wounded.

There was no immediate word on who was behind the shelling.

Libya descended into chaos after the October 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with two governments vying for power and armed groups battling for control of its vast energy resources.

A militia alliance including Islamists overran Tripoli in August 2014, establishing a rival government and a parliament that forced the internationally recognised administration to flee to the country’s remote east.

On October 8, after almost a year of arduous negotiations, Leon put forward a list of names to head a power-sharing government, but both sides rejected the proposed appointments.

Friday’s shelling comes two days after Leon insisted he would press on with efforts to clinch a political deal.

“The process goes on. There is no chance for small groups or personalities to hijack this process,” Leon said.

“The political solution is the only real alternative,” he said, adding that further meetings would be held in the coming days.

On Monday, Western and Arab states urged rival sides to accept the UN plan “immediately”.

A joint statement was issued by the foreign ministers of Algeria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Qatar, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, as well as the EU foreign policy chief.

It called on “all parties in the Libyan political dialogue to immediately adopt the political agreement negotiated” by Leon.

A unity government in Libya is seen as the best chance to tackle the rise there of the Islamic State group and migrant-smuggling from Libya across the Mediterranean to Europe.

The UN Security Council has threatened to impose sanctions on those who block a peace deal or undermine any political transition in Libya.

(Source / 23.10.2015)

Written by altahrir

October 23, 2015 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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Four years after Gadhafi, is Libya better off?

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People take part in a protest against candidates for a national unity government proposed by UN envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon, in Benghazi, Libya, Oct. 9, 2015. The United Nations proposed a national unity government to Libya’s warring factions on Oct. 8 to end their conflict, but the deal faces resistance from Tripoli’s self-declared rulers and hard-liners on the ground

This Oct. 20, 2015, will mark four years since the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi died in still mysterious circumstances as his convoy was leaving his hometown of Sirte in central Libya while NATO-backed rebels closed in. There is no reliable account of how or why he died, but Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that his convoy was first bombed by a NATO airplane, forcing him and about 250 of his most loyal companions to seek shelter. An amateur video showed a wounded Gadhafi alive while being loaded into a pickup truck to be taken to Misrata some 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Sirte, and later he was announced dead.

Libyan authorities never fully investigated this crime despite promises to do so, and no official account of what really happened was ever published. The rebel credited with Gadhafi’s capture, Omran Bin Shaaban, died under unclear circumstances while receiving treatment in France in 2012.

Gadhafi’s death will go down as a landmark, and certainly as a bad one. It hardly represents any of the ideals aspired to by a nation that had just emergd from violence and war on the heels of the Libyan revolution, which was supposed to bring back justice and the rule of law, among other hopes. This all leads to a simple question: Is Libya better without Gadhafi?

Most Libyans would like to have seen him tried before a court of law and be made to answer many questions only he could have answered. After all, Gadhafi ruled for over four decades. But even more Libyans today, including middle-rank former rebel leaders, think he was killed for the very reason he should have been tried: so that he wouldn’t be given an opportunity to talk.

Hassan, a former rebel leader who does not wish to use his real name fearing reprisals, told Al-Monitor that “Gadhafi’s death is certainly not what we wanted, but I believe local and foreign politicians wanted him dead because the man knows too much.” Having him talk could have created a serious political embarrassment for many regional and world leaders.

When asked about the situation in his country today, Hassan said, “It is not promising, and many of us [former rebels] regret what happened because we never expected it to be this bad.” Without a doubt, Libya today is a fractured country without any central government. Instead, it has two quarreling governments — one in Tripoli recognized by no other state, and another in the city of El Bayada, which enjoys useless international recognition. At the same time, different terror groups are making gains in Libya. The most dangerous of them is the Islamic State (IS), which has so far expanded into three cities: Derna in the east, Sirte in the middle and Subratha in the west.

So many Libyans share such beliefs nowadays, as they compare their country and indeed their lives today to how they were under Gadhafi’s rule.

Less than two weeks ago, IS launched its most daring attack in Libya on a prison compound at Mitiga air base, a secure location in Tripoli. At the same time, various militias still operate outside any government control with the judiciary hardly functioning. Arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, and murders still occur, albeit on a lesser scale than three years ago. Sporadic gunfire, roadblocks and power shortages have become routine.

Benghazi, the second major city in Libya where the revolution started in February 2011, has been almost completely destroyed in the ongoing war between the Libyan army of the internationally recognized government, based in El Bayada, and different Islamist factions concentrating mainly near the seafront north of the city. The capital city of Tripoli is under the control of a government recognized by no other state; it was established after a bloody war that ended with the destruction of the airport and the capture of the city in August 2014 that forced the internationally recognized government to flee to eastern Libya.

Compared to a year ago, life for ordinary Libyans in the capital might have improved a little, but it is still far from normal — and normal here is in comparison to what it used to be under Gadhafi. People still lack security and struggle to make ends meet, with skyrocketing prices and little subsidized basic food available. Basic medical services are almost nonexistent, forcing people to seek treatment in neighboring Tunisia. Those with financial means seeking to go to Europe for whatever reason find it even harder, since all Western embassies have long since closed; in order to apply for a visa, any Libyan citizen must travel to Tunis, Tunisia.

Oil production, the main source of government revenue, is down by three quarters, and the country now pumps less than half a million barrels a day, denying the treasury much-needed cash to pay the thousands of civil servants on its payroll. Government salaries are at least three months behind payment schedule. All major infrastructure projects that were in progress when the unrest started four years ago have been on hold since all major foreign companies left, leaving behind rusting building cranes dotting the Tripoli skyline. Thousands of Libyans are still displaced inside the country, with an estimated 1 million citizens forced to seek security abroad — particularly in Egypt and Tunisia.

Most schools and universities have yet to open their doors for this academic year, and schoolchildren are spending most of their time outdoors playing in unsafe streets.

Meanwhile, political factions continue to quarrel about the shape of the next government in endless UN-led talks that recently ended in Skhirat, Morocco. People are less hopeful that their country can be saved anytime soon. Hassan believes that “such talks will never deliver anything to the country,” admitting that “life under Gadhafi was much better than it is now.

(Source / 13.10.2015)

Written by altahrir

October 13, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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Libyan PM Blames Turkey And Qatar For Forcing Political Islam On His Country

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Certain states aim to impose political Islam in Libya, Libyan Prime Minister told Sputnik in an interview. The country’s internationally recognized government is in need of arms to fight militants and seeks international airstrikes targeting the Islamic State extremist group.

Mideast Libya

In this Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 photo, Libyan soldiers try to fix a weapon that jammed during clashes with militants on the frontline in Al Ajaylat, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Tripoli, Libya. Army forces in Libya have been fighting Islamic and tribal militias since last September

OBRUK (Sputnik) – Qatar and Turkey are to blame for forcing political Islam on Libya, the prime minister of the internationally recognized Libyan government, Abdullah Thani, told Sputnik.

“There are states wishing to impose political Islam on us. Turkey and Qatar, for example, are attempting to impose it on Libya despite the people’s rejection,” Thani said.

That rejection was exemplified in the recent parliamentary elections, the prime minister added.

Thani acknowledged the willingness to cooperate with activists of political Islam as an integral part of the political landscape in the country.

“However, partnership does not imply hegemony, and not only in Libya. Qatar and Turkey have that experience in Egypt, where they strongly support the Muslim Brotherhood,” Thani stressed.

The internationally recognized Libyan government seeks international airstrikes targeting the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, not against political rivals, Prime Minister Abdullah Thani continued in an interview with Sputnik.

The Arab League pledged military assistance during an extraordinary session requested by the internationally-recognized Tobruk-based government last week. The association ruled out targeted anti-IS airstrikes over Libyan territory.

“We asked for airstrikes on IS, not on our political rivals,” Thani clarified.

The prime minister argued for surgical strikes in coordination with the Libyan army because “all parties agree that IS must be stopped.”

The northeast port city of Tobruk government’s call for help came as Islamic State gained control over the northern Libyan city of Sirte, killing up to 200 people in mid-August.

Libya is in need of arms to fight militants and does not consider foreign military assistance to be an encroachment on the sovereignty of the country, according to Abdullah Thani.

“We need weapons and ammunition… But we do not believe military assistance is akin to foreign interference,” Thani argued.

The prime minister said that a lack of weapons and an abundance of people willing to take up arms “creates an imbalance.”

“The international community helped us overthrow the [Gaddafi] regime, but did not help in building a new state,” Thani explained to Sputnik.

Libya has been in a state of civil war since the overthrow of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and is now split into two rival governments. The Tobruk-based government led by Thani is recognized internationally. The country’s capital of Tripoli and adjacent western areas are controlled by self-proclaimed authorities.

On Wednesday,the UN envoy to Libya, Bernadino Leon, told the UN Security Council the rival Libyan authorities were in the “final stages” of forming a national unity government.

(Source / 28.08.2015)

Written by altahrir

August 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm

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Arab League to hold extraordinary meeting on Tuesday after Libya’s request for action on ISIS

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Ashour Bourashed, Libya's delegate to the Arab League, looks on during Monday's emergency meeting (AFP) (photo: )

Ashour Bourashed, Libya’s delegate to the Arab League, looks on during Monday’s emergency meeting

The Arab League will hold an extraordinary meeting Tuesday to discuss a Libyan request for Arab countries to take action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Sirte, a diplomat said Sunday.

The internationally recognized Libyan government based in the country’s east asked for the meeting on Saturday urging Arab countries to “adopt measures to confront” the jihadist ISIS group.

Later that day, it issued a statement calling for Arab air strikes against the militants, but it was not clear if it submitted a formal demand to the Arab League and whether the bloc would discuss such action.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held by permanent delegates to the Arab bloc, which is headquartered in Cairo, Jordan’s ambassador to Egypt and Arab League representative Bisher Khasawneh told reporters.

ISIS militants had seized control of the Libyan coastal city of Sirte in June, gaining another foothold in the chaotic country torn between rival governments.

Battles to oust the jihadists raged since Tuesday, although the fighting was reported to have subsided on Sunday.

The militants beheaded 12 local militiamen who had been battling them in the east of the city and hung their bodies on crosses, official news agency LANA reported on Saturday.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates had conducted a few air strikes in Libya over the past few years, targeting ISIS militants and militias opposed to the internationally recognized government.

(Source / 16.08.2015)

Written by altahrir

August 16, 2015 at 9:15 pm

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Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam sentenced to death by court in Libya

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Former heir apparent and other senior members of one-time Libyan regime sentenced in Tripoli after controversial trial criticised by human rights groups

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has been sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli in a mass trial of former regime figures widely criticised by human rights groups and observers.

Saif Gaddafi, once seen as his father’s heir apparent, was condemned to death along with eight other figures from the former dictatorship, including the former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Gaddafi’s last prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi.

The trial, which opened in Tripoli in April last year, has been mired in controversy after human rights groups and the international criminal court questioned its standards.

There is uncertainty about whether the sentence will be carried out, as Gaddafi is being held by a militia in the mountain town of Zintan that is opposed to LibyaDawn, the militia coalition in control of Tripoli.

Gaddafi has been held in Zintan since he was caught trying to flee Libya in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. The militia has refused to hand him over to Tripoli.

He was accused in the trial of recruiting mercenaries, attacking civilian targets from the air, forming armed groups and shooting into crowds of demonstrators. Among the charges he was convicted of were incitement to murder and rape.


Muammar Gaddafi-era officials wait for their trial in a prison cage in Tripoli

The ICC indicted Gaddafi, along with Senussi, for war crimes and crimes against humanity but judges in The Hague refused Libya permission to try him. However, the ICC gave permission for Senussi to be tried in Libya, and the former intelligence chief – held in custody in Tripoli – was one of 28 defendants in court. Four of the Muammar Gaddafi-era figures were cleared of charges.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Bar Association issued statements criticising the proceedings, with IBA director Dr Mark Ellis saying several trial monitors were arrested and questioned by security forces.

Gaddafi’s ICC-appointed lawyer, John Jones, condemned the trial process. “It’s a complete show trial, a farce,” he said. “This trial is effectively being run by Libya Dawn militias.”

Jones said the videolink set up in Tripoli to allow Gaddafi to be tried had worked on only three occasions, leaving him in the dark about the proceedings. “They [Tripoli prosecutors] are relying on confessions from defendants extracted by torture. It was condemned by Libya’s own ministry of justice as illegal.”

In London, Senussi’s 17-year-old daughter, Salma, said her father had been denied a proper trial. “It’s like a nightmare every day waking up fearing to hear this. I ask the world for only one thing: for my father to have the law. We just want proper justice.”

Salma – in London with Senussi’s wife, Fatma, and his nine-year-old son after fleeing Libya – said her mother was too distressed to talk but was upset with the ICC judges for ruling that Senussi was getting a fair trial. She said: “I am angry with the international criminal court; it did not give my father a chance.”

Senussi was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 concerning the bombing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989 in which 170 people were killed. However, for ordinary Libyans, his name will always be associated with the 1996 massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison.

Senussi’s London-based lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, said “extreme fear, insecurity and intimidation” had dominated the trial. “The death sentence just handed down against Abdullah al-Senussi is the most deplorable decision in a case in which every one of his basic rights to a fair trial and due process have been completely ignored,” he said.

There are unlikely to be immediate executions after Sadiq al-Sur, head of the attorney general’s investigation department, said lawyers could appeal against the sentences. The nine death sentences are in two parts, with each defendant sentenced to die by firing squad and also fined 50,000 dinars (£23,481).


Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, former prime minister of Libya, arrives for a hearing at a courtroom in Tripoli in September 2013

Civil war engulfed Libya last July, with Libya Dawn militias seizing the capital and the internationally recognised government fleeing to eastern Libya and losing control of the trial process.

The ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in February that although Libya Dawn militias now controlled Tripoli, she had no evidence the case against Senussi – which Libya was given permission to hold in 2013 – had been affected.

Her office said in a letter to Senussi’s lawyers: “Despite the fact that the groups allegedly associated with Libya Dawn are in physical control of Tripoli and therefore the judicial and correctional facility system, there does not appear to have been any significant disruption to the trial proceedings.”

The verdicts, after a chaotic and secretive trial process, underline the failure of Libya to implement the democracy promised in 2011 when, with assistance from Nato air strikes, it overthrew the Gaddafi dictatorship. The proceedings are also a blow to the prestige of the ICC and its decision that Libya was fit to hold the trial.

Divisions have emerged over the conduct of the trial between the ICC and the United Nations, which ordered the court to investigate Libya war crimes in 2011.

The UN support mission for Libya, which monitored the trial until it left the country with the onset of civil war last summer, reiterated its belief on Tuesday that the case had failed to meet international standards.

The UN catalogued a list of failings, including reported intimidation of witnesses, a lack of access to lawyers and no presentation of witnesses or documents in open court.

UN officials said the authorities in Tripoli had failed to ensure that trial sessions were broadcast in their entirety, despite Libyan law being amended to allow it.

Claudio Cordone, from the UN mission, said: “Given these shortcomings, it is particularly worrisome that the court has handed down nine death sentences.”

Controversy at the trial reached a new level in June 2014 when a UN trial monitor was taken prisoner by the militia guarding the courtroom and accused of black magic. Although the monitor was later released without charge, it set the tone for the trial.

The ICC, meanwhile, has already faced criticism for achieving only two war crimes convictions in its 13-year-history, while South Africa last month defied its orders and refused to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, indicted for genocide, during his visit to Pretoria.

Its most high-profile case, against Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who was accused in connection with post-election violence that killed 1,200 people in 2007 and 2008, collapsed last year due to lack of evidence.

(Source / 28.07.2015)

Written by altahrir

July 28, 2015 at 7:00 pm

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Expulsion from Derna bastion may show limits for Islamic State in Libya

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(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. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on October 3, 2014 local media reported. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer)

An armed motorcade of Derna’s Islamic Youth Council, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya October 3, 2014

Islamic State jihadists have exploited widespread chaos to gain a foothold in Libya, but their ejection from an eastern city suggests they may not achieve a Iraq-style takeover due to strong local rivals and the absence of sectarian divisions.

Last month, local Islamist fighters reinforced by local civilians ousted Islamic State militants from Derna on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast, one of two bastions the jihadists had established in the North African oil-producing country.

It was the first setback in Libya for the ultra-violent jihadist movement that has sent in combatants and clerics from Tunisia, Yemen and other Arab states to try repeat its success in Iraq and Syria, where it has captured vast territories and proclaimed a “caliphate” based on medieval religious precepts.

Islamic State (IS) has benefited from Libya’s anarchy. Two rival governments are fighting each other and unable to gain the upper hand while former rebel groups that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 compete for power, creating a security vacuum.

But IS was driven out of Derna after seven people were killed at a protest against the influx of foreign jihadists and the killing of a commander of the local Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, allied with a former anti-Gaddafi militia in the town.

A number of angry residents joined the Abu Salim Martyrs to help them expel IS from Derna, an Islamist hotspot even during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule in which he suppressed political Islam.

The Sunni Islamic State has drawn considerable grassroots support in Iraq and Syria by milking longstanding Sunni-Shi’ite Muslim sectarian enmities. But this does not work in Libya, an exclusively Sunni country where local Sunni armed factions and tribes regard Islamic State as an infiltrator and competitor.

“People had had enough of Daesh,” said a Derna resident, using a derogatory Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. “The Abu Salim Brigade has enjoyed some support going back to the (anti-Gaddafi) revolution.”

Mattia Toaldo, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Islamic State would now probably focus on its other Libya power base — Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown on the country’s central coast where IS has won unusual support from Gaddafi loyalists opposed to Libya’s jostling new rulers.

IS insurgents have attacked oil fields south of the central city and kidnapped some nine foreign workers. They also executed 21 Egyptian Christians near Sirte and stormed a luxury hotel in the capital Tripoli, killing five foreigners.

Toaldo said he expected the jihadists would try to set up checkpoints at a strategic central junction where the east-west coastal highway links with a passage to Sabha, a city in Libya’s far southern desert. “They would be able to ask for a lot of protection money (there),” he said.

Unlike in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State has been unable to earn millions by selling oil on the black market because it is dominated by Libyans. IS therefore relies on ransoms paid for abducted prisoners and on state salaries paid to local members in Libya, where most adults remain on the state payroll.


Islamic State might also try tap into grievances in the impoverished south. Neither rival government has any authority in the remote, desolate area where dozens have been killed since last week in clashes between two tribes, the Tuareg and Tebu.

“Islamic State-linked militants may seek to take advantage of feelings of marginalisation in the southwest, particularly among members of the Tuareg ethnic group, to recruit fighters and hold territory,” said Geoffrey Howard, Middle East and North Africa analyst at London-based Global Risk Analysis.

As for Derna, Islamic State has confirmed in a video that it has pulled out its fighters. But the fighting is not over yet.

Military units loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government based in the east since losing control of Tripoli a year ago to a rival group said they had now surrounded Derna.

“Islamic State aren’t many and they don’t have petrol to move around,” said Abdul Karim Sabra, a local military spokesman. “They don’t have military vehicles either. They get around in fertilizer trucks.”

But clashes between Islamic state and eastern army units aligned with the internationally recognised government outside Derna, and several car bombs going off inside the city, killing 10 people and blamed by residents on Islamic State, suggest the military encirclement has not been effective.

Islamic State can always seek refuge in the Green Mountain hinterland — a hideout for independence hero Omar al-Mukhtar for years when fighting the then-Italian colonial regime.

Since the eastern army units and the Abu Salim fighters treat each other as enemies, and as long as these regional military forces do not try to venture into Derna, it may well remain a playground for radical Islamists.

“It’s a crowded field,” said Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Everything in Libya is fragmented, everything is localised, so it’s difficult for any group to expand.”

It also remains to be seen whether life will improve for people in Derna. “Shops and banks have reopened (since IS pulled out) but there is lack of medicine in hospitals,” said the local resident, who asked not to be named for his own safety.

(Source / 25.07.2015)

Written by altahrir

July 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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Rising Out of Chaos: The Islamic State in Libya

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Article of THURSDAY, MARCH 5, 2015

Recent attacks in Libya by the so-called Islamic State, including the brutal slaughter of Egyptian Copts, the Corinthia Hotel attacks, car bombings in Qubbah that killed at least 45 people, and an attack on the Iranian embassy, have brought the spread of extremism in Libya to the forefront. While the Islamic State has intensified its activity in recent weeks, its spread into Libya began early in 2014 as Libyan jihadists began to return from Syria.

Jihadi groups in Libya were already deeply fragmented and localized, but the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2013 and 2014 sparked new debates,eventually dividing the Libyan jihadis between supporters of the Islamic State and supporters of al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates—mainly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa and the Nusra Front in Syria.


Libyans had already begun traveling to fight in Syria in 2011, joining existing jihadi factions or starting their own. In 2012, one group of Libyans in Syria declared the establishment of the Battar Brigade in a statement laden with anti-Shia sectarianism. The Battar Brigade founders also thanked “the citizens of Derna,” a city in northeastern Libya long known as a hotbed of radical Islamism, for their support for the struggle in Syria.

Later, the Battar Brigade fighters in Syria would pledge loyalty to the Islamic State, and fight for it in both Syria and Iraq, including against its al-Qaeda rivals. In April 2014, the Battar Brigade announced the “martyrdom” of 25 of its fighters in a Nusra Front suicide attack on an Islamic State location.

In the spring of 2014, many Battar Brigade fighters returned to Libya. In Derna, they reorganized themselves as the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC). In September, an Islamic State delegation, including the Yemeni Abu al-Bara al-Azdi and the Saudi Abu Habib al-Jazrawi, arrived in Libya. After being received by the IYSC, they collected pledges of allegiance to the Islamic State’s self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from IYSC-aligned fighters in Derna. They then declared eastern Libya to be a province of the Islamic State, calling it Wilayat Barqa, or the Cyrenaica Province.


Even before the return of fighters from Syria became an issue, and long before the declaration of Wilayat Barqa, there were tensions between Islamists in eastern Libya. Many disputes concerned the Islamic legitimacy of Libya’s transitional governing authorities. Many former rebels—including Islamists—saw the post-Qaddafi government as broadly acceptable, and wanted to influence it from the inside. But the most hard-line factions condemned it for being based on democratic elections, relying on former members of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, and failing to apply Sharia law.

The presence and influence of the Islamic State continues to spread in the civil war chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya, inserting itself into an already messy conflict between the rival Operation Dignity and Operation Dawn.
For example, in July 2011, Mustafa Abdul Jalil—a Qaddafi-era minister and pragmatic Islamist who defected and became the leader of Libya’s Western-backed National Transitional Council—visited Derna. An Islamist militia known as the Abu Slim Martyrs Brigades (ASMB) offered to guard him, but shortly after the visit, a religious ruling was published on the influential jihadi site Minbar al-Tawhid in response to a question about the propriety of protecting Abdul Jalil. The ruling condemned the National Transitional Council, and asked jihadists to “be guardians of [religious] doctrine, not protectors of those who seek to displace the Sharia.” Another Derna-based group of Islamists known as Ansar al-Sharia (not to be confused with the Benghazi-based jihadi faction of the same name) agreed with this hard-line view. Tensions later increased, especially after the ASMB was criticized by more hardline Islamists for protecting the July 2012 General National Congress elections, which Ansar al-Sharia viewed as un-Islamic.

The arrival in Derna of Libyan jihadists from Syria added to the conflict. Initially, many of the returnees worked with Ansar al-Sharia against the ASMB. In May 2014,Mohammed Boubilal, an ASMB leader, was killed when his car exploded. Ansar al-Sharia in Derna and the IYSC were prime suspects. A few days later, Moatazz al-Miraash, reportedly a leader in both Ansar al-Sharia and the IYSC, was shot dead outside his house in Derna. Then, perhaps most significantly, one of the IYSC’s leading members, Mahdi Saad al-Ghaythi, was shot dead, reportedly while trying to bomb the house of a military leader in the ASMB.

The IYSC’s declaration of fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State further divided Ansar al-Sharia in Derna, with some members supporting the group while others followed al-Qaeda and professed allegiance to its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.


In May 2014, the retired General Khalifa Hifter launched a foreign-backed military operation dubbed Operation Dignity, which sought to purge Islamist forces from the Benghazi area. This spurred a temporary closing of the ranks among the Islamists, particularly because Hifter initially drew no distinction between Islamist groups that maintained relations with Libya’s Western-backed government, such as the Libya Shield One, and extremist anti-state jihadis like Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi.

The disparate Islamist militias combined their firepower and entered into a nominal alliance with other anti-Hifter forces. Even though many of these groups pursue Islamist politics, they are often more defined by their regional roots, with many based in western Libya, including in the cities of Tripoli and Misrata, or among ethnic Amazigh (Berber) groups. Together, Hifter’s opponents have called themselves Operation Dawn.

Libyan politics is now dominated by the struggle between Hifter’s Dignity coalition and the rival Dawn forces. The political vacuum created by the civil war, and the perception among Libyan Islamists that Hifter is a more threatening common enemy, have enabled the Islamic State to grow. Groups that would otherwise be compelled to confront the Islamic State are no longer marshaling all their resources to do so.

This dynamic is especially evident in eastern Libya. Despite their doctrinal and ideological divergences, the rejectionist al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliated groups—as well as more pragmatic Islamist militias—have all fought together against Hifter’s forces in and around Benghazi, even as they have kept jostling for power in Derna and other areas. In August 2014, for example, the ASMB announced the death of eight of its members in Benghazi, and in mid-September, a senior IYSC member was also reportedly killed in the city.


In addition to the declaration of Wilayat Barqa in eastern Libya, the Islamic State appears to be prioritizing its expansion in the west. On February 19, 2015, a convoy of Islamic State vehicles arrived at Sirte in central Libya and declared it Wilayat Tarablus (Tripoli Province). The group later moved to al-Nawfaliyah in the southwest, but withdrew on February 20 in the face of Egyptian airstrikes. There are also reports of growing Islamic State cells in Tripoli, Sabratha, and in the desert region south of Sirte.

The propaganda value of such expansion is clear. It has facilitated high-profile attacks like the assault on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli and, more recently, attacks on oil fields like al-Bahi and al-Dahra located south of Sirte. All of this serves to raise the profile of Wilayat Tarablus, attract potential foreign recruits, particularly from Tunisia, and put additional pressure on Operation Dawn factions in the west of Libya.

Sirte is an especially attractive site for Islamic State expansion given the long-standing presence there of fighters from the Benghazi-based faction of Ansar al-Sharia (both the Derna and the Benghazi branches of Ansar al-Sharia have been listed as terrorist groups by the United Nations). According to some reports, the Islamic State even dispatched a leading cleric, the Bahraini Turki al-Binali, to the city last year to win converts. Many Islamic State recruits in Sirte are reportedly defectors from Ansar al-Sharia; some are from Benghazi in the east, some are from Misrata, and some are local youth from the Furjan tribe.

While there have been many reports about the Islamic State exerting total control over Sirte, especially after the university in the city closed, the actual extent of its presence is more limited. Sources inside the city say that the Islamic State probably has less than 100 vehicles in the city, and its fighters probably number between 200 and 400. Misratan militias, along with the Sirte Security Committee, are in control of key checkpoints and roads leading into the city.

The Islamic State recently began staging attacks further south in what its members call Wilayat Fezzan. It announced its first attack there in early January 2015, when it killed nine members of the rival militia known as Southern Shield in Sukna. In mid-January, it was reported that the Islamic State had killed four soldiers in the Third Force, another militia, near Jufra. And in early February, the Islamic State attacked the Mabruk oil field near Jufra, and executed several workers.


The most crucial issue for the Islamic State’s future expansion plans may be the fate of Misrata. Given its proximity to Sirte, Misrata is directly in the Islamic State’s sights—and in its way. Any move by the jihadist group into Tripoli and the west of Libya will have to confront Misrata’s powerful militias. Already there have been several propaganda overtures by the Islamic State to the city, including an open letter from Abu Moadh al-Barqawi addressed to the “youth of Misrata.” Barqawi asked them to sacrifice their lives for God instead of for democracy and the parliamentary government backed by Operation Dawn, and urged the Misratan fighters to repent and join the Islamic State.

Reactions within Operation Dawn to the Islamic State’s advances have been split, which is perhaps no surprise, considering the loose and fluid structure of the Operation Dawn alliance. On the one hand, Libyan Islamists have stepped up their verbal attacks on the Islamic State. For example, Dar al-Ifta—Libya’s highest religious authority—has denounced the Islamic State’s “terrorist” actions as diverging from Islam. But on the other hand, some Operation Dawn sympathizers seem to be in denial about the problem. The Islamist-backed Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi has, for example, claimed that the Islamic State’s propaganda video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being murdered is intended to serve as a pretext for Egypt’s intervention on the side of Hifter and Operation Dignity.

Such statements have widened the gap between the Misratans fighters, who—whether Islamist or not—tend to view the Islamic State’s expansion into Sirte as a threat to their hometown, and other Operation Dawn factions in places like Tripoli. In interviews in January, several Misratan commanders acknowledged the growing threat from the Islamic State and sought to distance themselves from more radical elements in the Operation Dawn coalition.

A key question now is whether these Misratan forces have the capacity and will to confront the Islamic State while also pursuing their battle against Hifter. Although Misratan fighters from the Third Force and Center Shield have surrounded Sirte, they are reluctant to attack for fear of opening a fourth front in their exposed rear areas. (Misratans are currently deployed to the west of Tripoli, in the southern city of Sabha, and in Bin Jawad, east of Sirte). The Misratan approach toward the Islamic State in Sirte so far has avoided direct military confrontation and has instead relied on elders and religious figures to negotiate with the militants.


There are several ways in which the Islamic State could pick up increased support. The dislodging and dispersal of other hard-line Islamist factions could compel their youthful foot soldiers to join the Islamic State. Already there are signs of this happening among the Ansar al-Sharia groups in both Derna and Benghazi, although neither group has as of yet pledged its loyalty. The Islamic State in Libya may also benefit from the continued influx of foreign jihadists from Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, including hardened veterans of AQIM. Intervention by Egyptian troops on the side of Operation Dignity or the deployment of a Western peacekeeping force could provide the Islamic State with a recruiting ploy to attract an additional foreign fighter influx.

In order to reduce the likelihood of a stronger foothold for the Islamic State in Libya, there needs to be a ceasefire, as well as cooperation between more pragmatic military elements from the Misrata/Operation Dawn coalition and Operation Dignity forces, which would erode the potential space for growth of Islamic State elements.

As long as the civil war in Libya persists, the Operation Dawn faction will have incentives to downplay the Islamic State threat, to soft-pedal on confronting it or, even worse, to turn a blind eye as long as Islamic State fighters help in the battle against Hifter. For its part, Hifter’s Operation Dignity will have incentives to inflate the threat and use it as a pretext for marshaling international support against the entire Operation Dawn coalition. Both approaches are ultimately counterproductive over the long term.


Regardless of which trajectory the civil war takes, the Islamic State may find its expansion hindered by two structural factors.

First, the Islamic State will be unable to leverage the sort of broad-based sectarian grievances that have fueled Sunni support for the group in Syria and Iraq. Unlike Syria and Iraq, Libya has a homogenously Sunni population, and does not suffer from sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims. There is the possibility that the Islamic State could exploit the increasing resentment among tribal and communal groups that have been excluded from the new order—the deposed dictator’s Qadhadhfa tribe in the Sirte-Sabha region, for instance. But historically, jihadism in Libya has not had a distinctly tribal character, and many of the loyalist tribes are still throwing their lot in with Hifter and Operation Dignity.

Second, the Islamic State currently lacks the capacity to provide administrative and social services. In war-torn Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State was able to raise money through ransoms and control of oil. In Libya, however, oil continues to be controlled by the state-run National Oil Company, such that the government controls foreign oil sales and then distributes revenues to both the rival Tobruk- and Tripoli-based governments. Even if the Islamic State were able to seize major oil fields, it would face a different and more difficult export environment than in Iraq and Syria. It will therefore lack the capacity to provide the salaries and social services that underpin the Islamic State’s power in Syria and Iraq. That said, the group could benefit in the future from an influx of funds from outside the country, kidnapping for ransom, or the seizure of existing smuggling networks. But it may find it hard to do this given the multiplicity of other actors vying for these same revenue streams.

Moving forward, the group is instead likely to try to raise the appeal of its brand through high-profile attacks that can help it attract supporters from Libya’s splintering jihadist movements. It may also increase its attacks on the country’s oil resources in the hopes that it could tap into further economic decline to bolster its ranks.

(Source / 21.06.2015)

Written by altahrir

June 21, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

Tagged with ,


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