ISIS atrocity spreads through North Africa especially in LIBYA, EGYPT, ALGERIA AND TUNISIA

February 17, 2015 11:45 am

The mass beheadings of Egyptian Christians by militants in
linked to the Islamic State group have thrown a spotlight on the threat
the extremists pose beyond their heartland in and , where they
have established a self-declared proto-state.
Militants in
several countries – including Libya, Egypt, , Yemen and Saudi
Arabia – have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
although the degree of coordination and operational planning between IS
leadership and the group’s affiliates remains unclear.

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group, slogans as they carry the
group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in
Mosul, 360 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. The extremists pose a threat
beyond their heartland in Syria and Iraq, where they have established a
self-declared proto-state. Militants in several countries have pledged
allegiance to .

ISIS
is under pressure in parts of Iraq and battling a variety of
adversaries in Syria, but it’s metastasizing at warp speed elsewhere,
most dangerously in Egypt and Libya.

It
also has support in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the leader of
the group ravaging northern Nigeria, Boko Haram, has expressed his
admiration of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The
savage killing of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya — all of them
dressed in ISIS’ trademark orange prison garb — is another indication
of ISIS’ ability to take advantage of collapsed or collapsing states and
of its growing presence in . Most significantly, the
atrocity took place in Sirte, a long way from ISIS’ first stronghold around Derna in the east of the country.
ISIS’
presence in Sirte, a town of 50,000, has been growing. The Egyptians
were abducted in November, and more recently, the extremists
strengthened their presence by taking over government buildings and a
radio station.

Here’s a
look at the Islamic State group’s reach across North , and how the
extremists’ growing presence is viewed across the Mediterranean Sea in
.
LIBYA– The country has been in free-fall
since the end of the civil war that ousted longtime dictator Moammar
Gadhafi in 2011. Libya’s elected government has relocated to the far
eastern part of the country, while a loose alliance of militias have set
up a rival government in the capital, Tripoli.

Fighting between government forces and Islamic militias rages
in the second largest city of Benghazi. Hundreds of thousands of people
have been displaced, embassies have shut and diplomats have fled the
country, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers, many of
them Egyptian.
This chaos has proven fertile ground for Isis,
which has received pledges of allegiance from several extremist factions
in Libya. Isis-affiliated groups divide the vast, oil-rich country of 6
million people into three regions: Tripoli, Barqa or Cyrenaica in the
east, and Fazzan in the south.
The interior minister of Libya’s
elected government, Omar al-Sinki, has said that al-Baghdadi appointed a
Tunisian named Abu Talha to lead the IS faction in Tripoli. Al-Sinki
also has said that the bulk of Isis militants in Libya are Tunisian and
Yemeni.
According to postings on jihadi web forums, groups
claiming allegiance to Isis control the coastal cities of Sirte and
Darna, and have a presence in at least three other locales, including
Tripoli and Benghazi, the birthplace of Libya’s 2011 uprising. Egyptian
warplanes struck suspected Isis targets in Darna on Monday, following
the killing of the 21 Coptic Christians.
Militants claiming
allegiance to Isis have battled Libyan troops in Benghazi, often using
suicide bombers. Last month, fighters loyal to IS claimed responsibility
for a deadly and complex attack on a hotel in Tripoli.
EGYPT
The Egyptian government is battling a burgeoning insurgency centered in
the strategic Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.
North Sinai has seen a spike in militant attacks against security
forces, particularly after the military ousted Islamist President
Mohammed Morsi in 2013. The area has been under a dusk-to-dawn curfew
since October.
Some militants there have declared their
allegiance to Isis, with one such group calling itself Sinai Province of
the Islamic State. It claimed responsibility for a sophisticated and
multi-pronged set of attacks late last month on Egyptian military
positions that killed 32 troops.
Last October, another major
attack killed more than 30 troops, and last month Sinai Province
militants claimed responsibility for the capture and killing of a police
captain.Sinai Province, which grew out of the al-Qaida-inspired group
known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has not attacked civilians directly,
although some have died as a result of its violence.
Extremist
groups in Sinai rely heavily on weapons smuggled across the porous
desert border with Libya. Despite more than a year of massive military
operations in northern Sinai, which have included home demolitions along
the frontier, the government has not been able to stem a daily stream
of militant attacks there.
ALGERIA AND
The Islamic State group’s successes in Syria has inspired a number of
radical Islamist groups to splinter away from the dominant North African
branch of al-Qaida, known as AQIM, and declare allegiance to
al-Baghdadi.
Most prominent has been the Algerian Soldiers of the
Caliphate (Jund al-Khilafah) led by a veteran al-Qaida commander that
kidnapped French hiker Herve Gourdel in September and then put out a
video showing his beheading.
Algeria unleashed a massive
operation against the group last year, and most of its known members
have since been captured or killed.
In Tunisia, the radical Oqba
ibn Nafaa brigade has long had good relations with AQIM, but has also
issued statements in support of Isis. More importantly, however, there
has been a steady flow of Tunisian recruits to al-Baghdadi’s group, most
passing through Libya for training. Increasingly, they have stayed
there and fought with an alliance of Islamist militias as well as the
Islamic State, and report have emerged of several Tunisian “martyrs.”

‘A threat to international peace’

Hours after the Egyptian air force carried out retaliatory airstrikes Monday,
the Egyptian Foreign Ministry warned that “leaving the situation as it
is in Libya without a firm intervention to curtail these terrorist
organizations would be a threat to international peace and security.”
The
Italian government has suggested an international peacekeeping presence
in Libya. Italy is acutely aware that it’s the jumping-off point for a
growing flow of migrants and a base camp for , just hours
across the Mediterranean.
Bernardino
Leon, U.N. envoy to Libya, has floated the idea of international
monitors when a peace agreement between rival factions is hammered out.
But “when” seems a long way off, despite the beginning of talks between
rival factions in Geneva. And U.S. and European officials fear that
putting boots on the ground would be a bug light to ISIS supporters.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times,
Leon admitted that “terrorism is becoming a problem beyond the east [of
Libya.] It is growing into the west and now the south, and from the
west they might go to Tunisia and Algeria.”
Porter agrees there is a risk to Tunisia.
There
are hundreds of Tunisians among ISIS’ ranks in Syria and Iraq, and the
government is already battling a jihadist presence at home in the
Chaambi Mountains. “Although Tunisian security services have improved
their capabilities in the last 24 months, they fear that they would be
overwhelmed by the emergence of a cross-border threat originating in
Libya,” Porter says.

Egypt’s Sinai nears anarchy

While Libya is ISIS’ most notable franchise, jihadists in Egypt have made the vast Sinai desert almost ungovernable.
Chief
among them is ISIS’ freshly minted Sinai Province, formerly called
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Late in January, it killed at least 30 people in a
series of co-ordinated attacks on security outposts, leading Egyptian
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to shake up the military command in the
Sinai. And just last week, it released a video showing the beheading of
eight alleged spies.
With Israel on
one side and a military-dominated government in Cairo on the other,
Sinai Province has powerful enemies close by.
“That
said,” writes Aaron Zelin, a leading scholar of jihadist movements, “if
the Egyptian government continues to operate in a brazen manner,
militarily it will create new local recruits that could sustain the Islamic State in north Sinai.”
Less
developed but worth monitoring are self-declared supporters of ISIS in
Pakistan and Afghanistan, which the group now calls the province of
Khorasan. One of them was a former Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Rauf,
who was killed a week ago in a drone strike in Helmand Province. He had
split from the Taliban, and analysts are watching for further
fragmentation of the group.
Several commanders of the Pakistani Taliban also pledged to al-Baghdadi,
but it’s unclear yet whether their departure has more to do with the
rifts that have torn the group apart in the last two years. The Long War
Journal concluded that most of the new ISIS group were low- to
mid-level militants — a sign of “the competition between smaller and
emerging militant groups in South Asia, some of which are seeking to
align with the Islamic State brand.” within the group.
The
most intriguing development in recent months has been the desire of the
Nigerian group Boko Haram to fly the ISIS flag, literally and
metaphorically. It has begun to hold territory and talk of its own
Caliphate in northern Nigeria. Its propaganda machine has become much
more ISIS-like. And it has incorporated the ISIS symbol into its own
flag.
It has also begun inflicting ever
more gruesome punishments, including beheadings, on its victims. Boko
Haram’s leader, Abu Bakr Shekau, has expressed his admiration for ISIS
and al-Baghdadi on more than one occasion — but ISIS has not officially
acknowledged any link between the two groups.
For
now at least, it is the long coast of Libya and its deep empty
interior, its lack of government and many porous borders that seem the
most promising territory for ISIS.

WHAT THREAT DOES THIS POSE TO EUROPE?
European states have looked on with growing alarm as militants with
links to Isis have risen in prominence across North Africa. Italy, which
is just 800 kilometers from the Libyan coast, has been perhaps the most
concerned by the extremists’ surge in Libya.
Italian authorities
fear that Islamic militants might slip into the country on Libya-based
smuggling boats crowded with refugees and migrants from Syria, Africa
and elsewhere. Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has even gone so far as to
press for UN intervention to stem the violence in Libya.
On
Sunday, Italy repatriated by sea its personnel from its Tripoli embassy
and advised other Italians, many of whom work in oil or construction
businesses, to leave Libya.
Fears about the Isis threat are also
running high in France, which has seen more people join extremists in
Syria and Iraq than any other European country. Some 1400 French
citizens or residents have been identified as linked to jihadi networks
in recent years, hundreds of whom have traveled to Syria or Iraq, Prime
Minister Manuel Valls said last week.
French authorities are
particularly concerned that Isis-linked extremists will stage attacks at
home, and are trying to toughen counter-terrorism laws and tools to
stop them.
A Frenchman who killed four people at a Paris kosher
market last month, Amedy Coulibaly, claimed ties to Isis, and the group
said last week that Coulibaly’s girlfriend has joined Isis in Syria.
Another
Frenchman with ties to IS, Mehdi Nemmouche, is the chief suspect in a
deadly attack on the Brussels Jewish Museum. Isis in recent months has
started a monthly online magazine in French and have released multiple
online videos in French urging French Muslims to join jihad in the
Mideast – and if they can’t, to stage attacks at home.

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