ISIS is not Libya’s only jihadist threat

Friday 18/12/2015
Workers clean the ground after a suicide car bomber set off his device at a checkpoint near Misrata, Libya, last May.

Tunis - The Islamic State (ISIS) is only one of the jihadist organisations jeopardis­ing the security of Libya, UN experts and the North African country’s neighbours warned.
ISIS’s core leadership picked Libya into which it could expand beyond Iraq and Syria, dispatching trusted loyalists of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to supervise the groundwork of its franchise in the violence-torn North African coun­try.
A statement from Libya’s six neighbouring countries and a UN report suggested that ISIS’s scheme to establish a fallback territory in Libya, however, did not go beyond recycling local extremist gangs and returning Libyan fighters.
Territorial control by ISIS has not spread outside Sirte, the home­town of late Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
ISIS moved into the ranks of feuding militias to capture Sirte, a Mediterranean coastal area close to the basin of oil and gas wealth in eastern Libya. It is about 600 km east of Sicily, making it the closest territory to Europe that ISIS con­trols.
Many in Sirte saw ISIS as a tool to hit back at new political forces in Libya and avenge the destruc­tion of the city where Qaddafi was killed by rebels in 2011.
“ISIS is an evident short- and long-term threat in Libya. The group is benefiting from the ‘ap­peal’ and notoriety of ISIS in Iraq and in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the UN report stated. “However, the group’s threat should be real­istically assessed. ISIS is only one player among multiple warring factions in Libya and faces strong resistance from the population, as well as difficulties in building and maintaining local alliances.”
ISIS has yet to show the same ea­gerness to benefit from Libya natu­ral resources as its central com­mand has done in Iraq and Syria.
Several waves of Libyans have returned from battlefields in Syria and Iraq since 2013 and form the backbone of the ISIS branch in Lib­ya, which continues to be a magnet for foreign terrorist fighters, largely from North Africa, according to the report seen by The Arab Weekly.
While ISIS has been focusing on Sirte, it could forge local alliances to spread its territorial clout and provide inspiration for other for­eign fighters to join the group in Libya, the report added.
The document, issued December 1st, compiled intelligence assess­ments on ISIS and other groups in Libya from UN members and suggested the al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa as well as other ter­rorist organisations were using the country for rear bases and retreats.
While Ansar al-Sharia Derna and Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi seem to have weakened since the estab­lishment of ISIS in Libya, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Mourabitoun and Ansar al-Sh­aria in Tunisia continue to use the country as a rear base for opera­tions in the region.
“Groups associated with al-Qae­da have established a significant presence in Libya, including facili­ties for training, implying a long­er-term strategic goal to sustain a presence in the country (with ex­ternal operations capability),” the report said.
“The resulting threat is regional and international, with particular significance for Africa, given the growing numbers of foreign terror­ist fighters and the presence of a globalised group of terrorists from different al-Qaeda backgrounds.”
Al-Qaeda has benefited from weapons looted from Libyan Army stocks. Those arms played a sig­nificant role in the advances by al- Qaeda affiliates in northern Mali in 2012. After al-Qaeda affiliates were dislodged from Mali, the remaining fighters withdrew to Libya, accord­ing to the document.
ISIS and al-Qaeda have not repli­cated the enmity in Libya they dis­played in Syria, even though they compete for clout and resources in some areas.
Libya’s neighbours — Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Tu­nisia — did not single out ISIS as the only threat from Libya when they met on December 1st and 2nd in Algiers to spur Libya’s political ri­vals into coming together to form a unity government.
They expressed their worries from the terrorism expansion in Libya especially ISIS, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia and called for In­tensifying efforts to ward off the phenomenon, the Libyan neigh­bours said in a statement.
They “deem the worsening of the situation in Libya will permit the development of terrorism and deepening instability in Libya. That forms a serious threat to neigh­bouring countries,” the statement said.
The UN report quoted an un­named member as saying that at least 12 of the 28 individuals in­volved in the attack on the Tigan­tourine gas field near Amenas in Algeria by al-Mourabitoun and al- Mouaqaoune Biddam in January 2013, had been trained during the summer of 2012 in camps run by Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi.
In addition, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Derna took part on the September 11, 2012, attack against the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
A senior unnamed US Defense Department official told the New York Times the group expanded to about 2,000 fighters since it an­nounced its affiliate in Libya, in what he said was “contingency planning” as it grows its forces.