Libmonster ID: TJ-540


Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of Sciences


Keywords: Libya, "Islamic State in Libya" (IGL), international security, fight against terrorism

Five years have passed since the beginning of the Arab Spring in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The events in these countries were the result of various socio-political processes, serious transformations in the region, about which dozens or even hundreds of studies have been written to date. One of them is an increase in the activity of new and old terrorist organizations and an increase in the number of hotbeds of instability.1

In this regard, terrorism is today one of the main challenges for the modern international society. This issue is being discussed at international platforms and security forums, such as the [African] "Marrakech Security Forum" 2, in order to develop new methods of combating extremist challenges.

The most dangerous phenomenon was the "Islamic State" (IG) (formerly the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" - ISIL), which challenged the modern system of geopolitical and civilizational relations, imposing itself as a "state" with its own ideology and posing a threat to the future world order. In 2014-2015, there was a rapid and very successful advance of the militants of this military-political extremist structure in Iraq and Syria and the seizure of vast territories, the creation of cells in neighboring states, including in the countries of North Africa and the Sahel zone. Although their area of control in Iraq and Syria has been somewhat reduced, the danger of increased activity has not been removed.

In addition, the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in France in January, November 2015 and July 2016, and in Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Turkey in 2016 once again proved the need for an early solution to this problem at the international level.

This article attempts to examine the activity of an IS cell in Libya, where after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, a struggle for spheres of influence developed between tribes, armed groups of former Suvwar ("ex-revolutionaries"), and Islamist groups.


In February 2015, international media reports reported on the shocking brutality of the executions of 21 Egyptian Christians in the Libyan city of Sirte by IS militants in Libya, and 30 Ethiopian Christians in April.3

However, the fact that IS cells are being created in Libya became obvious in the summer and autumn of 2014. Then Islamic extremists from the Shura Council of Islamic Youth (SHIM), which included disparate factions of local radicals, Libyan jihadists who returned from Syria and Iraq, as well as jihadists from other Arab and African countries, declared the coastal city of Derna and the mountainous areas of Jabal al-Akhdar, in particular the Fataih mountain area with training bases in several hundred fighters, controlled by the territory of the Islamic State in Libya and the province of the "caliphate" - "Wilayat Barka" 4.

Under Gaddafi, the city of Derna in the eastern province of Cyrenaica was one of the main strongholds of Islamists in the country, who adhere, in particular, to radical ideology. In 2012, many of them went to Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, where they formed their own al-Battar battalion, which pledged allegiance to the leader of the IG, and later became the basis of its Libyan cell.

Amid the growing chaos in the country, the Islamic State in Libya (ISIL) established its authority in Derna, despite the fact that local groups focused on ideology maintained their positions in the city.

The article was prepared with the financial support of the Russian State Scientific Foundation. Project N 16 - 07 - 0009 "The phenomenon of the Islamic State in the context of the development of modern Eastern society".

page 21

Al-Qaeda or its regional branch, Al - Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs ' Brigade and the associated Derna Mujahideen Shura Council.

EAGLE fighters patrolled the streets in lines of cars, waving black flags, thereby demonstrating their power and strength. Citizens were informed that instead of the former state institutions and judicial instances, Islamic courts will be created (as was done before in Iraq and Syria-Mosul, Raqqa, etc.), which will establish social justice only on the basis of Sharia law, and the Islamic police [al-shurta al-Islamiya]. At the same time, the IGL initially chose "soft power" tactics for residents ,such as distributing free food to the poor, etc., but after gaining influence in the city, it introduced strict practices and a system of punishment, banning the sale of tobacco products, holding entertainment events, and introducing the mandatory wearing of the burqa for women..

It is obvious that Libya has become the "next" stronghold for IS, which was possible due to the rapidly deteriorating socio-political situation in the country and the crisis of state authorities after the overthrow of the former regime in October 2011, which, in fact, can be described as "multi-power-anarchy". In this scenario, Libya, moreover, has a convenient geographical location for the spread of radical ideology-the sea borders run with Europe, access to the Sahel zone to Nigeria, where the Islamist group Boko Haram (another name is the "West African province of the Islamic State") operates.

In 2014-2015, against the backdrop of the escalation of the military - political conflict and the formation of two opposing camps in the country-Dignity led by retired General Khalifa Haftar and the union of radical forces Dawn of Libya, IGL is trying to expand its presence in other regions of Libya and strengthen its position by engaging in armed struggle with local forces that resisted them. Islamists and former SUVs, including those from the Dawn of Libya coalition 6.

However, the situation in Libya was initially so ambiguous and complex that, despite doctrinal and ideological differences, these local groups and IGL nevertheless fought together with Haftar's forces in Benghazi and its environs, although in Derna and other parts of the country they fought for power with each other. In addition, in September 2015, a new stage of military escalation was outlined in Libya after the appointed commander of the Libyan Armed Forces, H. Haftar announced the launch of a new operation against terrorist groups, in particular ISIL militants - "Death" [al-Hatf].

The route of EAGLE's territorial expansion is "along the sea coast to the west". It is home to a large number of oil fields, particularly in the Sirte basin, as well as oil terminals and refining infrastructure. In February 2015, the group captured the coastal city of Sirte and its suburbs, and by June 2015, it had full control of several hundred kilometers around Sirte, declaring them part of the" caliphate "- the"Tarabulus wilayat".

The militants occupied a strategically important object - the Gardabiya air base, located in the south of the city, which, however, was almost destroyed as a result of military operations by NATO forces in 2011. Analysts also noted that it would be easiest for the group to further expand into other western, eastern and southern regions of Libya and create a new military base in the city. the territorial network controlled by its militants [the same tactical move IS made in Iraq to capture Eastern Syria] with "footholds" in three provinces.7

However, according to some researchers, the success of the IGL in Sirte - the hometown of Gaddafi - can be explained by the fact that the group received the support of some former members of the Ansar al-Sharia group, the youth of a number of tribal groups and clans, as well as numerous active supporters of the former leader from the Gaddafi tribe who pursue their own interests and with his [EAGLE's] help, they intend to take revenge 8. In this context, it can be assumed that the IGL could have achieved more "success" by using inter-clan struggle (although it may have initially acted in this direction, trying to negotiate with the tribal leaders).

In addition, there are suggestions that the ease with which the militants of the Libyan IS cell occupied Sirte is due to the fact that there were few armed groups in this area after the end of the "February 17 revolution", in particular the former Suvwar, in contrast to the eastern part of the country9. At the end of November 2015, it was reported that ISIL militants had set up a control center in Sirte and started encouraging new ISIL members to go to Libya rather than to Syria and Iraq.10

It is obvious that in those Libyan cities, in particular in the western and eastern provinces, where

page 22

the group tried to establish its influence and control-Sabratha, Benghazi, Harawa, Nofalia, Al-Kubba, Eliten and others, including the capital of the country, it organized terrorist actions. These include attacks on diplomatic and foreign missions, abductions and executions of foreigners, attacks on military checkpoints, and urban infrastructure, such as the Corinthia Hotel, which is popular in business circles in the capital, in early 2015, or the Zliten Police Academy training camp, which resulted in the deaths of about 70 military and civilian personnel. civilians.

One of the targets of the Libyan IS cell is oil fields and oil facilities. In 2015, after the capture of Sirte, the group launched a series of attacks on the Al-Bahi, Dahra, and Al-Ghani oil fields. For example, during a raid on Al-Ghani, 700 km southeast of Tripoli, in March 2015, militants burned down an oil storage facility and abducted several foreigners who worked at the field. However, as the representative of the Libyan military department Ahmed al-Mesmari noted in an interview with the British BBC news channel, " ... the attackers did not seek to take control of the field. Their goal is to burn, destroy and plunder... " 11.

In Fezzan, a southern province of Libya, ISIS groups also stage terrorist attacks or engage in armed power struggles with local groups. So, in early January 2015 in Sukna there was a clash of NEEDLES with a rival paramilitary organization "Southern Shield", and in mid - January of the same year near Jufra-with another group"Third Force". A little later, in early February, IGL militants attacked the Mabruk oil field near Jufra and executed several workers.


In its" arsenal of violence", the ISIL uses the same techniques as the IG - "high-profile terrorist attacks", the outcome of which is numerous victims. As proof of this, it is worth recalling two such major terrorist attacks - in March and June 2015-on the territory of Tunisia: the attack on the National Museum "Bardo" and the shooting of foreign tourists on the beach in the resort city of Sousse. The attacks were allegedly carried out by the Okba ibn Nafi'a Brigade, which is affiliated with the Islamic State. 12 The situation remains very worrying in Nigeria, in the border areas of Chad, Niger, where Boko Haram is attacking, and in the Sinai Peninsula [North Sinai], where the radical group Wilayat Sinai also operates (another name is "Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis").

While it is difficult to assess how implemented the plans of the IG regarding its expansion into Libya were, since the vector of forces in this country is constantly shifting. According to media reports, in March 2016, the IGL lost control in the eastern city of Ajdabiya. In April 2016, it was driven out of eastern Derna and the mountainous Fataih region, where it had established itself in 2014, by local groups, in particular the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council.13

Another force that resisted the IGL no less, including during the "campaign for Derna" in mid-2015, was the Libyan army. Haftar's forces are loyal to the" eastern " center of power in Tobruk, next to Derna - the House of Representatives (PP). They were able to recapture the small towns of Martuba, Sousa, Ras al - Hilal from the IGLES14. However, it is doubtful that the group completely abandoned its positions in Derna, without retaining its supporters there.

However, the main" possession " of the NEEDLES is the area of Sirte, for which a struggle has unfolded since mid-spring 2016. On the one hand, there are ISIS fighters who do not want to leave the territory under their control, on the other, there are opposing forces: Haftar and his military units and military formations loyal to the government of national unity formed with the assistance of the UN* (already the third in a row, operating today in Libya) led by Fayez Seraj, The backbone of which is the "Misrata Brigade"**. F. Seraj established an Anti-IS command center in Tripoli with the support of military officers from the city of Misrata.

In early May 2016, ISIL militants took control of the small town of Abu Ghrein (130 km west of Sirte) and several other settlements. According to some reports, the successful advance of the militants was facilitated by the retreat of the detachments of the "Misrata brigade". Obviously, the EAGLE's plans were to capture another major city, Misrata, and in

* At the end of 2015, representatives of two rival Governments in Beida, Tobruk and Tripoli, signed an agreement to establish a Government of national unity. Inter-Libyan talks between the parties with the participation of UN special Representatives for Libya lasted almost a year. author's note).

* * The Misrata Brigade (formerly the suvar of Misrata) controlled the capital for a long time and supported the General National Congress (GNA), which had lost its legitimacy. A considerable number of people from Misrata are also in the ranks of the IGLA (author's note).

page 23

The next step is to establish control over the capital Tripoli.

However, at the end of May, the "Misrata brigade" managed to recapture the territories they had captured from ISIL militants, including Abu Grain, as part of the military operation that began - "Al-Bunyan al-Marsus" ("Strong structure", or another translation - "Cohesion"), the purpose of which is to liberate the territories controlled by ISIL.

In early June 2016, the representative of the Al-Bunyan al-Marsus command, Mohammed al-Ghasri, stated that the operation was a great success and that the military units managed to advance to Sirte and recapture the suburban territory from the militants. 15 However, in reality, the operation was delayed and fighting continued in Sirte at the end of August, although media reports claimed that the military controlled 70% of the city's territory, including the Ouagadougou International Conference Center, where IGL 16 was headquartered. If the group is driven out of the Sirte area, it will deal a serious blow to the plans of the IS aggressive expansion into this North African country. But will it negate the further terrorist threat in this region, and where will IGL go if it loses its position in Libya?

There is no doubt that this will further aggravate the situation in the countries bordering Libya in the south, and the group is likely to try to "turn around" in neighboring Niger and coordinate its actions with the Nigerian Boko Haram .

A number of experts point out that the ISIL has lost its position in eastern Derna, but is trying to capture more and more areas of the country, while creating the impression that the "caliphate" is only expanding.17 According to some estimates, the number of fighters of the Libyan IS cell has increased significantly since the fall of 2014, which confirms the considerable influence of its ideology on the minds of "recruits"who want to join its ranks. In December 2014, the head of AFRICOM, General David Rodriguez of the US Armed Forces, stated that there were several hundred fighters in training camps in Libya, but in April 2016, the US military was already talking about 6 thousand militants fighting in this country18.

According to other estimates, this number has now declined sharply, particularly since the start of Operation Al-Bunyan al-Marsus, and primarily due to the defection of a large number of fighters, mostly from Misrata.19

A columnist for the English edition of The Telegraph, referring to the data of the Libyan General Ismail Shoukry from the military intelligence directorate in Misrata, cites the following statistics: 70% of the IGL fighters are not Libyans, but fighters from other [African] countries: most of them are from Tunisia, the rest are from Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Morocco, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, from the Gulf countries, as well as European countries 20.

However, this is not comparable to the number of fighters who are fighting in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, it should be noted that the territory of Libya is almost three times larger than the territory of Syria and Iraq combined. This is another feature that many researchers point out, calling into question the ability of the Libyan IS cell to "grow in size", which directly depends on the success of its territorial expansion to capture new areas in Libya. Although ISIS fighters are capable of launching a terrorist attack in any part of the country 21.

But isn't this also due to the fact that most of this North African country is occupied by the desert, and these territories are easy to capture, but difficult to control? However, a considerable number of oil fields in Libya, which may be the target of militants, are just hundreds of kilometers from the sea coast.

In this regard, there are very skeptical assessments about the capture of the NEEDLES of the Libyan oil and gas sector, although there are obvious cases of looting, including pumping oil from pipelines in the area of the territory controlled by it. Here it is worth emphasizing that the possibility of obtaining such control, which is available to the IG, is being evaluated.

First,since the fall of the Gaddafi regime, there has been an internal struggle for control of hydrocarbons between various armed groups and the central authorities in the country.*

Secondly, it will be very difficult for the Libyan IS militants to arrange the transportation of oil, for example, to the land borders of neighboring states. In this case, it is necessary to control large distances of thousands of kilometers - deposits, pipelines and oil storage facilities, as well as highways along which tanker trucks could move.

Meanwhile, there are no reports yet that EAGLE has developed a recycling capability

* For example, the events of the summer of 2013-the seizure of several major oil ports by former "ex-revolutionary" Ibrahim al-Jadran and his supporters. Or the events of the winter of 2014 and the operation "Shuruk" of the armed formations of the "Dawn of Libya", the purpose of which was the oil loading ports in the area of the" oil crescent " on the coast of the Gulf of Sidr (author's note).

page 24

crude oil production in Libya, including through mobile refineries, as the Islamic State has managed to do.

As far as maritime transport is concerned, the use of NEEDLES by low-capacity oil carriers [even if such cases have occurred] is economically inefficient and is unlikely to make a large profit, and the tanker will not have time to enter the Mediterranean Sea before it is seized by either armed groups of former Suvar or government forces. 22

Third, Libya still has a low level of oil production, which has been declining since the crisis began in 2011.

In this regard, the purpose of attacks on oilfields is also obvious-to burn, destroy, rob, and kidnap foreign workers. It seems that such actions of the Libyan IG cell are, along with the actions of armed groups, a serious additional destructive factor for the country's economy, which, in fact, is its goal - to deprive the country of its main source of income and maintain a state of complete chaos.

* * *

The fight against terrorism in Libya is a priority not only for Libya itself.

One of the UN reports on the situation in Libya, which was prepared in November 2015, expressed serious concerns about the threat posed by the Libyan IS cell. At the same time, the document expressed doubts that Libya could become a new "stronghold" of the IG [but already in Africa] in the event of the group's defeat in Syria and Iraq. However, its territory can serve as a springboard for new militant attacks, in particular, on European countries,as well as strengthen the positions of other radical groups from neighboring [African] countries. 23

Following a meeting of the UN Security Council in April 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and International Cooperation of Mali, Abdoulaye Diop, stated that the Islamic State is a real threat to Mali and other West African countries. He stressed that this is a global problem and these countries should not be allowed to deal with it alone.24

What can be considered as effective assistance to Libya? Military operations against the militants of the Libyan IS cell [and can this be compared with the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria]? And if we talk about the recent airstrikes of the US Air Force on the positions of the group in Sirte, in early August of this year? As the head of the Government of National Unity F. Seraj stated at the time, "... air raids are limited in time and are carried out exclusively on the IGL fortifications in Sirte and its environs ... " 25.

Back in late January 2016, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, General Joseph Dunford, said at a meeting with journalists in Paris that the growth of the IS influence in Libya should be stopped by military means. And after a meeting of the international coalition to fight the Islamic State took place in Rome in early February, The New York Times noted that the United States ".....The option of opening another front against the Libyan IS militants is being considered, and the motive for launching military operations is growing concern about the presence of the "Islamic State" in Libya...26. The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that Paris is "studying the possibility of conducting" a military operation in Libya, and other countries may join the coalition.27

It is the fragmentation of Libya, in fact, that is one of the main obstacles to achieving the main goal -countering terrorism. The strategy should take into account the interests of armed groups of former Suvwars, various tribal groups and clans.

The issue of maintaining the embargo remains a stumbling block

page 25

UN Security Council ban on arms supplies to Libya. In May 2016 in Vienna, at a meeting of representatives of the Foreign Ministry, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the arms embargo will be amended, and noted -"...if there is a legitimate [national unity] government in the country and it is fighting terrorism, then it should not be a victim of the embargo...". At the same time, concerns were expressed that weapons could be seized by IS militants in Libya.28

Undoubtedly, the reconstruction of Libya's oil sector is also of key importance for the country's economic and political future. In this regard, a special place is given to protecting the oil infrastructure in order to prevent further attacks.

It is also recognized that it is necessary to allocate funds through international assistance to provide humanitarian assistance to the population and control the flow of Mediterranean migration.

1 See, for example: Fituni L. L., Abramova I. O. Non-state and quasi-state actors of the Greater Middle East and the problem of "Eurojihadism" / / Asia and Africa Today. 2015. N 11. (Fituni L.L., Abramova I.O. 2015. Non- and Quasi-State Actors of the Greater Middle East and the Phenomenon of Eurojihadism // Aziya i Afrika segodnya. N 11) (in Russian)

2 For more information, see: Abramova I. O. Afrikanskaya initiativa po borbe s mezhdunarodnom terrorizm [The African Initiative to Combat International Terrorism]. 2016, N 5. (Abramova I.O. 2016. African initiative to combat international terrorism // Aziya i Afrika segodnya. N 5) (in Russian)

3 ISIS executes more Christians in Libya // CNN, 20.04.2015 -

4 Attack in Tripoli. Islamic State heads west // The Economist, 31.01.2015 - tal-storming-countrys-largest-hotel-islamic

Cruickshank P., Robertson N., Lister T. 5 ISIS comes to Libya // CNN, 18.11.2014 -

6 Al-Qaida-Linked Militants Attack IS Affiliate in Libya // Associated Press, June 10, 2015 - f=gs

7 ISIS in Libya: a Major Regional and International Threat // The Meir Amit Intelligence and terrorism information Center, p. 4.

8 Ibid., p. 13, 40.

Porter G.D. 9 How Realistic Is Libya as an Islamic State "Fallback"? // CTC Sentinel, 17 March 2016 -

El-Ghobashy T., Morajea H. 10 Islamic State Tightens Grip on Libyan Stronghold of Sirte // The Wall Street Journal, 29.11.2015 -

11 Libya violence: Foreign oil workers 'kidnapped' // BBC News, 09.03.2015 -

12 ISIS Claims Responsibility For Tunisia Museum Attack In Audio Message // The World Post, 19.03.2015 -

13 Islamic State in retreat around east Libyan city: military // Reuters, 20.04.2016 -

14 ISIS in Libya: a Major Regional.., p. 33.

Joscelyn T. 15 Libyan forces seize key points from the Islamic State around Sirte // The Long War Journal, 09.06.2016 - r-siegejphp

16 Mayor of Sirte: the Libyan military liberated the city from ISIS by 70% / / RIA NOVOSTI -

Joscelyn T. 17 Libyan forces seize key...

18 Islamic State setting up Libya training camps, US says // BBC News 04.12.2014 -; ISIS in Libya doubles its manpower to 6000 fighters // Al Masdar News, 08.04.2016 - Al-Masdar News

19 ISIS in Sirte reduced to 300 militants only, says Libyan forces, official // Libyan Express, 14.07.2016.

Freeman C. 20 Isil recruiting migrant 'army of the poor' with $1,000 sign-up bonuses // The Telegraph, 01.02.2016 - army-of-the-poor-with-1000-sign-up-bonuses.html

Porter G.D. 21 How Realistic Is Libya as an Islamic State "Fallback"? // CTC Sentinel, 17 March 2016 -

22 Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to paragraph 13 of Security Council resolution 2214 (2015) concerning the terrorism threat in Libya posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Ansar al Charia, and all other Al-Qaida associates // United Nations Security Council, 19.11.2015 - - 891_unsc_20151119.pdf

23 Security Council Adopts Resolution 2295 (2016), Authorizing 'More Proactive and Robust' Mandate for United Nations Mission in Mali. June, 2016 -

24 Report of the Analytical Support...

25 US launches airstrikes targeting IS in Libya // An-Nahar, 01.08.2016 -

26 Obama Is Pressed to Open Military Front Against ISIS in Libya // The New York Times, 04.02.2016 -

27 Libye: la France prepare les plans d'une offensive contre Daech // Le Figaro, 01.02.2016 - - 20160201ARTFIG00331-libye-la-france-se-prepare-contre-daech.php

28 Powers will ignore UN arms embargo so Libya can take on ISIS // The Australian News, 18.05.2016 - can-take-on-isis/news-story/042441d6e069c699d63d77480ce2bd35


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