Libya could replace Syria and Iraq as main Islamic State hub

“The bottom line is that Islamic State has found the perfect storm from where to hunker down and build its power away from the main stage in Syria and Iraq,” expert says

April 4, 2016 02:30
2 minute read.

An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna’s Islamic Youth Council drives along a road in the town of Derna in eastern Libya on October 3, 2014, a day after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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If attacks on Islamic State continue to weaken the group in Syria and Iraq, it could relocate its headquarters to Libya’s northern coastal town of Sirte, its Libyan headquarters since early spring 2015, an Israeli expert on Africa said on Sunday.

Prof. Yehudit Ronen, a leading expert on Libya and the African Sahel region at Bar- Ilan University, said the Syrian regime and Russia’s military victory in retaking the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State was a watershed defeat for the group.

“As Islamic State losses continue, the attractiveness of Libya as a rear and alternative base could gather momentum and become reality,” said Ronen, a political scientist and author of the acclaimed Qaddafi’s Libya in World Politics.

“Libya’s Mediterranean coast is a highly important strategic location for Islamic State, which it penetrated in 2014,” noted Ronen. “The organization is well aware that the coastal strip’s oil and gas-rich infrastructure and ports are turning Libya into an effective jump-off point to expand jihadist terror to the European continent.”

The unrest in Libya’s can be seen in the broader context of the jihadist plagued Maghreb and Sahel regions where terrorism is transversing borders, affecting governments from Algeria to Tunisia to Egypt, she continued.

Moreover, she said, “Libya’s governmental void and violent chaos, lacking any effective military and security systems, further aggrandize the attractiveness of Libya to the Islamic State.”

Since the summer of 2014, Libya has had two rival governments: The self-declared one in Tripoli, and the elected and internationally recognized government in Tobruk, she explained.

“This week, the third unity government backed by the international community, appeared in the political arena, yet, [without] succeeding to become an effective actor.

Besides ceremonial gestures, the new unity government lacks any effective authority and still is bickering over a base in Tripoli, while in the meantime the economy has collapsed.

“The Western powers are backing the unity government, hoping it will become an address to cooperate in confronting the Islamic State militants, deal with illegal migratory flows from Libya to Europe, and restore oil production to shore up Libya’s economy and thus stabilize the country and curb the export of jihadist militancy and terror activities,” she said.

The West has been looking to politically and military back the unity government, which is supposed to lead by consensus, however, the West cannot move until it has a legitimate political pillar to collaborate with, asserted Ronen.

In a twist, Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, from her safe haven in Algeria, reiterated the message that her father gave before his fall; that the country would fall to Islamist groups if his regime were toppled.

“The state of the rats didn’t work. The rats don’t build, they eat each other,” said Aisha, as quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Libya has fallen into the tentacles of imperialism,” she said.

Ronen points out that Aisha’s father “warned the West that what is happening now would happen if he was toppled from power. He ended up being right.”

“The bottom line is that Islamic State has found the perfect storm where it can hunker down and build its power away from the main stage in Syria and Iraq, expanding on its ambitions to implement the caliphate vision deeper into the African Sahel and Maghreb as well as in Egypt and Sudan,” said Ronen.

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