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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.

DERNA’S SYRIAN CONNECTION

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.

INTRA-ISLAMIST CONFLICTS

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.

DIGNITY VERSUS DAWN

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.

BEYOND DERNA AND BENGHAZI

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.

MOVING TOWARD MISRATA?

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.

FEEDING OFF OF THE CIVIL WAR

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.

OBSTACLES TO THE ISLAMIC STATE’S EXPANSION

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

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Three kidnapped Tunisian diplomats freed in Libya

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Three of 10 Tunisian consular staff kidnapped in Libya last week have been freed and negotiations over the other hostages are continuing, a Libyan official and a Tunisian source said on Tuesday.

Gunmen stormed the Tunisian consulate on Friday in Tripoli, where armed factions have in the past seized diplomats and foreigners to exert pressure on their governments to free Libyan militants held in jails abroad.

Tunisia is one of the few countries to keep a diplomatic presence in Tripoli since an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital last year and forced the internationally recognised government to flee to the east of the country.

No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Tunisian authorities last month arrested Walid Kalib, a member of Libya Dawn. A Tunisian court refused to release Kalib, who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.

“Three diplomats have been freed yesterday after they were kidnapped in the capital Tripoli,” a Libyan diplomatic police official, Faraj Swhili, told Reuters. “The other seven diplomats will be released when the Libyan detainee in Tunis, Walid Kalib, is released by Tunisian authorities.”

A Tunisian government source confirmed the release, but would not give any details about negotiations or conditions set by the captors.

Gunmen have kidnapped Egyptian, Jordanian and Tunisian diplomats and citizens in the past. Most diplomats left the country after Libya Dawn, a loose alliance of former rebel brigades and Islamist-leaning groups, seized power in Tripoli.

Four years after the fall of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has slowly tumbled into crisis, with former brigades of rebels turning against each in a battle for control. The United Nations is trying to coax the two main factions into a unity government.

(Source / 16.06.2015)

Written by altahrir

June 16, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Posted in Politics

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Militia storms Tunisian consulate in Libyan capital, kidnap 10 staff: Tunisia

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A man walks past the South Korean embassy after it was attacked by gunmen in Tripoli April 12, 2015

TUNIS: An armed group stormed the Tunisian consulate in the Libyan capital Tripoli and kidnapped 10 staff on Friday, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry did not identify the armed group, but called the assault a “blatant attack on Tunisian national sovereignty and a flagrant violation of international laws.”

Tunisia is one of only a few countries which still has a mission in Tripoli, a city which is controlled by a group that has set up its own government, a rival to Libya’s internationally recognized leaders.

Tunisian authorities last month arrested Walid Kalib, a member of that rival group, Libya Dawn. On Thursday, a Tunisian court refused to release Kalib who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.

Libya Dawn, a loose alliance of former rebel brigades and Islamist-leaning groups, seized power in Tripoli last summer, expelling the internationally recognized government to the east.

Most countries closed their embassies during the fighting.

Relations between the North African neighbors have become increasingly tense, with Tunisia’s government worried about spillover from the chaos that continues to plague Libya four years after the overthrow of strongman Moammar Gaddafi.

(Source / 12.06.2015)

Written by altahrir

June 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Politics

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Egypt-Libya Sallum border crossing opens from Libyan side Monday

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Egypt-Libya Sallum border crossing opens from Libyan side Monday

Salloum Land Crossing, Egyptian Libyan Borders

CAIRO: The Egypt-Libya Sallum border crossing will reopen Monday after a recent agreement was made to open the borders and allow Libyans access to Egypt, Chief of Libya’s Musaid municipality Saleh Moawd said Monday.

“A total of 100 Libyan national will enter into Egypt Monday after they have submitted their entry requests to the Egyptian authorities,” Moawd told al Wasat news website, adding that 100 Egyptian nationals will cross into the Libyan side.

A Libyan parliamentarian delegation visited the crossing Thursday to be updated on the latest developments for transportation. The delegation has agreed with the Egyptian side to reopen the crossing from both sides.

“As per the final agreement, the Libyans, aged between 13 and 59, are allowed to enter into Egypt. Meanwhile all women will enter without visa. Libyan national; either students in Egypt, hold valid residency or married to Egyptian women are allowed to enter,” Moawd added.

Egyptian vegetables shipments will head to Tobruk, where the internationally recognized Libyan government is located, he added.

Since mass execution of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians by the Islamic State (IS) group in Libyan on Feb. 16, Egypt has tightened security measures along its western borders with Libya, which has sunk in security lapse and political turmoil since the 17 February uprising.

Due to high security measures at the crossing, infiltration attempts from both sides have been foiled. Some 105 Egyptian illegal emigrants arrived at the crossing Sunday, Youm7 reported.

On June 1, a total of 56 Egyptians, allegedly attempted to illegally cross into the Libyan territories through desert routes, were arrested.

(Source / 08.06.2015)

Written by altahrir

June 8, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Politics

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Libya militia frees all detained Tunisians: Ministry

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Tunisian anti-terrorism brigade officers cordon outside the Bouchoucha military base in Tunis

Dozens of Tunisians held in Libya by a militia forming part of an alliance ruling Tripoli have been freed, Tunisia’s foreign ministry announced Saturday.

“All the Tunisians being held in Libya have been freed. The final group was released today,” the ministry said in a statement, without giving numbers.

Tunis announced earlier in May that 172 of its nationals were being held in western Libya by a militia belonging to the Libya Dawn alliance.

Mohamed Abdelsalam al-Kuwiri, who heads a unit in the Tripoli-based government that combats illegal migration, said last week that his officers had helped secure the release of 42 Tunisians.

According to Tunisia’s foreign ministry, its nationals were detained “to check their documents,” although the Tunisian consul in Tripoli has said they were apparently taken as bargaining chips for a Libyan militia commander arrested in Tunis.

Libya has been wracked by conflict since the 2011 overthrow of veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising, with rival governments and powerful militias battling for power.

(Source / 30.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 30, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Politics

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ISIL takes control of airbase in Libya’s Sirte: Report

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The image, released by ISIL on February 18, 2015, shows purported members of the Takfiri militant group parading in a street in Sirte, Libya. (© AFP)

The image, released by ISIL on February 18, 2015, shows purported members of the Takfiri militant group parading in a street in Sirte, Libya

Takfiri ISIL terrorists have reportedly taken control of an airbase in the northern Libyan coastal city of Sirte.

The move, reported on Friday, comes as the terrorist group has been seeking to expand its presence beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, the two countries where it has been engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.

The al-Qardabiya airbase in central Sirte fell into the hands of ISIL, said Mohamed al-Shami, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based Libyan government.

The Misrata-based so-called 166th Battalion forces withdrew from the seized airbase late Thursday.

Meanwhile, the ISIL terrorist group posted a statement on Twitter, touting the airbase’s takeover by its militants.

Emergence in Libya

In February, ISIL released a video on the web that showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Egypt’s military carried out a series of airstrikes against militant targets in the city of Derna in retaliation for the slaughter of the Copts. Derna, located roughly 300 kilometers (about 190 miles) from Libya’s border with Egypt, has been regarded as a base for ISIL in eastern Libya.

In the same month, the ISIL media outlet published photos showing members of the Takfiri militant group parading on the streets of Sirte.

Over the past few months, there has been occasional fighting between ISIL and the Libya Dawn faction, which has been tasked by the government in Tripoli for the security of Sirte.

The government in Tripoli is not internationally recognized.

(Source / 29.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 29, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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Libya warplanes bomb ship near the city of Sirte

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Military says the ship was unloading fighters and weapons, while oil officials say it was an oil tanker.

Libya’s air force chief said the oil tanker ignored a warning before it was attacked

Warplanes from Libya’s UN-recognised government have attacked an oil tanker off the coast near the city of Sirte, wounding at least two people, officials said.

“Our jets warned an unflagged ship off Sirte city, but it ignored the warning,” Saqer al-Joroushi, the head of Libya’s air force, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.

“We gave it a chance to evaluate the situation, then our fighting jets attacked the ship because it was unloading fighters and weapons,” he added.

“The ship now is on fire. We are in war and we do not accept any security breaches, whether by land, air or sea,” Jourushi added.

An oil industry official said the ship was actually a tanker which had been carrying 25,000 tonnes of gasoil. He named the tanker as Anwar Afriqya.

Rida Essa, commander of coastal guards in central Libya, said the tanker had been unloading gasoil for Sirte’s power plant when it came under attack. The ship was still on fire, he said.

He said a crew member and a port worker had been wounded.

Libya is still in the midst of a power struggle between two governments fighting for control, with the internationally recognised government operating out of the east since losing control of the capital in August to the rival grouping.

Sirte’s power plant on the western outskirts of the city is controlled by forces loyal to the rival government in Tripoli.

The rest of the city has fallen into the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) fighters which have exploited the chaos and security vacuum in Libya four years after the ousting of the late leader Muammar Gaddafi.

(Source / 24.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 24, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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