IS in Libya bids to emu­late Iraq, Syria suc­cess

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MIS­RATA, Libya: The at­tack bore all the traits of Is­lamic State in Iraq. A small unit of mil­i­tants, armed with Kalash­nikov ri­fles and sui­cide belts, hit the Tripoli prison just be­fore sun­rise. Blast­ing through a wall, four fight­ers worked their way through the heav­ily guarded com­pound be­fore fir­ing a rocket-pro­pelled grenade to breach the cells in­side. Their tar­get, se­cu­rity sources say, was a jailed Libyan Is­lamic State mil­i­tant. Clashes erupted. Two of the at­tack­ers, a Moroc­can and a Su­danese, det­o­nated sui­cide belts and shortly af­ter­wards all four, and the mil­i­tant, were dead.

The prison break failed. But it was an­other illustration of the tac­tics em­ployed by an Is­lamic State front de­ter­mined to emu­late the suc­cess of the group’s founders in Iraq and Syria. “When we see them fight­ing, they are well trained. There were only four, but they desta­bilised the whole base,” said Muaad Khalil, a spokesman for forces at the Mait­iga base. “Who would have thought to at­tack this base, but they did.”

Four years af­ter the over­throw of Muam­mar Gaddafi, Libya is locked in a con­flict be­tween two ri­val gov­ern­ments - an of­fi­cial one in the east, and a self­de­clared one controlling Tripoli - and the many armed fac­tions that back them. Far from the bat­tle­fields of Iraq and Syria, Is­lamic State has steadily grown in Libya’s chaos, controlling the city of Sirte, and wor­ry­ing Western gov­ern­ments who fear it can only be­come stronger in the postrevolution mess.

They have left their mark on the North African state. They have mas­sa­cred Chris­tian Egyp­tians on a Libyan beach, pub­licly flogged crim­i­nals in Sirte, stormed oil­fields, and at­tacked a five-star Tripoli ho­tel. But while Libya’s tur­moil and history of ji­hadism of­fered fer­tile ground, Is­lamic State has run up against the heav­ily armed fac­tions and ri­val Is­lamists al­ready in place. Even as they lay claim to Sirte, Libya’s Is­lamic State fol­low­ers have been ousted from Derna city by lo­cal fight­ers, and have shown they can­not hold ground or muster the fi­nances and oil re­sources they ben­e­fit from in Iraq. “They clearly want to ex­pand from Sirte,” one Western diplo­mat said. “They con­tinue to main­tain the abil­ity to carry out one­offs out­side their main area, but they are still small.”

Ji­hadist History Libya has a long history of ji­hadism. Men from the Libya Is­lamic Fight­ing Group fought in Afghanistan. Later, Libyan al Qaeda mil­i­tants were ac­cused in the US em­bassy bomb­ings in Tan­za­nia and Kenya in 1998. Af­ter the fall of Gaddafi, and with the steady frac­tur­ing of Libya be­tween ri­val brigades of for­mer rebels, the Is­lamist mil­i­tants among them found room to grow. One group, An­sar al Sharia in Beng­hazi, was blamed for the 2012 at­tack that killed the US am­bas­sador there.

As in Iraq and Syria, Is­lamic State draws re­cruits from lo­cal groups, se­cu­rity sources and lo­cal res­i­dents say. But Derna also showed their lim­its. Even af­ter Is­lamic State lead­ers ar­rived to re­cruit in July, fight­ing erupted as Derna Is­lamists and cit­i­zens fed up with for­eign ji­hadists drove Is­lamic State out. But in Sirte, se­cu­rity sources and res­i­dents say, they found a more suit­able base by tap­ping into frus­tra­tions in Gaddafi’s home town, where many felt side­lined af­ter the revo­lu­tion. “Daesh saw Sirte as the per­fect place. Some Gaddafi fol­low­ers are now Daesh mem­bers,” said lo­cal mil­i­tary com­man­der Is­mail Al-Mja­ree, us­ing an Ara­bic name for the group. “In Derna, they didn’t have that en­vi­ron­ment.”

Tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tions of ri­vals and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials be­gan last year, and Is­lamic State forces moved in force on Sirte in Fe­bru­ary and March, tak­ing a ra­dio sta­tion and other im­por­tant build­ings. Forces from Mis­rata - a port city that is home to one of the coun­try’s more pow­er­ful mil­i­tary fac­tions - ar­rived to take back Sirte. But fear­ing large-scale ca­su­al­ties and blam­ing a lack of sup­port from Tripoli, they re­treated, al­though hos­til­i­ties may be re­sumed at some point. — Reuters

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