Assessing the threat level of ISIS in Libya
Tunis - From January through August, the number of Islamic State (ISIS) followers in Libya doubled. The rapid expansion of ISIS in Libya and its threat to the region deserve more scrutiny.
Not much is known about ISIS’s beginnings, other than it took advantage of a time of weak central authority and the absence of national consensus.
Politically, the movement touts “universal jihad” and is known for fast deployment and its cruelty. ISIS fighters quickly took over Sirte and vital infrastructure and institutions. The extreme cruelty with which ISIS fighters carry out executions has been widely publicised.
The international dimension of the movement can be seen in the diverse Arab nationalities of its leadership and the fluidity of change among leaders.
This year five ISIS leaders in Libya were killed. Abu Bara al-Yemeni was the first. Next, Imed Sahd, from Libya, was assassinated, then Muftah al-Ghuwaiel, the head of the assassination section of ISIS, was killed, followed by Basheer al-Darsi from Libya. The fifth was the Saudi Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi. None of the killings weakened the movement. Each time a leader fell, he was quickly replaced.
The current leader of ISIS in Libya goes by “al-Khazemi” and is thought to be a Yemeni national. He is acting as a governor and representative of ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The logistics section is headed by Abu Nabil al-Anbari from Iraq.
Many nationalities make up the movement in general. In the area of al-Qardabiya near Sirte, Tunisians, Saudis, Yemenis, Iraqis and others rub shoulders.
The rapid deployment of ISIS in a strategic area such as Sirte, in the middle of the Libyan coast, is a sign that the movement has a specific plan that starts with occupying large areas in Libya and will soon threaten neighbouring countries.
What is really frightening is that ISIS ideology is starting to take root in many Libyan cities. This situation may seem normal considering the absence of legitimate authorities and their services. To satisfy needs, people simply turn to the strongest hand available.
Reports in areas under ISIS influence indicate a growing adherence by local populations to the ideals of a caliphate and their acceptance of takfiri ideology, including the killing of opposing groups.
In this respect, researchers have demonstrated that Salafist and takfiri ideologies, such as the ones held by ISIS and al-Qaeda, are direct offspring of Muslim Brotherhood ideology. The latter meets with the former in rejecting any national dimension of the Islamic ummah and believes in the universal dimension of the Islamic state.
This might explain how extremist religious movements in Libya have easily accepted leadership from non-Libyans, for it is concomitant for those who accept ISIS ideology to accept the removal of territorial or tribal boundaries and unconditionally adhere to universal jihad. Sooner or later, ISIS ideology in Libya will represent a threat to neighbouring countries. Preventive measures must be taken, including: increased border patrols and controls, improved intelligence gathering and fighting smuggling, the backbone of ISIS financing in Libya.
Credible reports cite two main sources of ISIS funding. The first is spoils of war resulting from raiding “enemy” territory or acts of banditry known in jihadist jargon as ihtitaab. Sources reported the disappearance of $36.6 million en route from the Central Bank of Libyan to Sirte. Rumours point to the ISIS leadership in Libya.
ISIS also derives substantial income from selling drugs, hallucinogenic pills and arms.
Libya’s future with the presence of ISIS is dark indeed. The danger is not so much in terrorist acts by ISIS as it is that other Libyan factions are fighting each other rather than presenting a unified front against the terrorist movement.
If Libyan factions do not steer away from fratricidal policies and accept the principle of power sharing, ISIS will swallow up whatever is left of the Libyan territory.
The continued control by ISIS of a large area of Libya will eventually lead to the creation of a “no man’s land” along the country’s borders. Recently, a Libyan border patrol unit withdrew from the Egyptian border. This disturbed the Egyptian border surveillance system and it is feared there will be an increase in arms smuggling into Egypt.
Algeria doubled the number of soldiers on its Libyan border and Tunisia began building a sand-and-dirt wall along its frontier at a cost of more than $51 million.
Let’s not forget that Arab League decisions have not gone beyond the propaganda effect. It becomes increasingly necessary to tackle the situation in Libya through open regional conferences aimed at bringing various factions in the Libyan conflict — except the jihadists — to the negotiation table.
If that fails, the security threat in the region will increase day by day until it cannot be circumvented, which will push other North African countries to invest in weapons rather than development projects.