ISIS is gaining more ground in fragile Libya

February 8, 2015 9:00 pm

“Urgent. Soldiers of the Islamic State captured 21 Christian
crusaders,” was a barely noticed statement issued on social media last
month by – not in or , but in Libya.
The fate of
the hostages – believed to be Egyptians – remains unknown, but that is
not what will worry officials in London, Washington and elsewhere. As
Islamic State (Isis) in Syria gets the headlines, the group’s affiliates
in Libya quietly gain ground and threaten another failing state.
On
January 28, the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli was attacked by Islamists in
a raid that cost at least nine lives, including that of an American
contractor. Again, it was Isis that quickly claimed responsibility.
According
to the Tripoli-based think-tank Kalam, the situation in Libya is
increasingly unstable, which, as in Syria, Isis is set on exploiting.
“The continued political and military chaos following the ousting of
Gaddafi in 2011 has provided an ideal situation for extremist
organisations such as IS to expand throughout Libya.

Libyans loyal to Isis are said to be returning to their home country after fighting in Syria and Iraq. Photo / AP

“In the months following [the Islamist group Majlis Shura
Shabab al-Islam’s] declaration of allegiance to IS in October, attacks
attributed to other IS-related groups have occurred across all regions
of Libya,” the think-tank says.
Kalam has logged all
Isis-inspired activity in Libya since last July. It runs to 20 pages,
and includes details of hostage videos, beheadings, public executions
and processions of militants driving through towns flying the black flag
now synonymous with Isis.
The think-tank says Isis now has a
foothold in several towns from Tripoli to Benghazi and Sirte, as well as
Darna in the east, which it controls.
In many ways, it is not
surprising that Isis is gaining ground. Since Gaddafi’s brutal overthrow
in 2011, the country has barely been governable. Various regional and
factional groups have tried to assert control and even the recognised
Government has been forced to flee Tripoli and set up shop in the
eastern town of Tobruk, more than 100km from the capital. It was run out
of Tripoli by Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of Muslim Brotherhood types
and officials from the west of the country.
The elected
parliament sits in a hotel and describes its rival administration in
Tripoli as a bunch of . UN-brokered talks are taking place in
Geneva, and progress is slow.
“The failure of the political
process has created a political vacuum,” says Jason Pack, a researcher
of Libyan history at Cambridge University. “There was no Isis in Libya
until the failure of the political process.”
Kalam estimates that
there are already as many as 3000 fighters loyal to Isis in Libya,
which is thought to be one of the largest contributors of men to the
group’s ranks in Syria and Iraq.
“They’ve been preparing this for
a while. A lot of them fought with Isis in Syria and they’re coming
back home to Libya,” Aaron Zelin, of the Washington Institute told ABC
.

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