ISIS in Libya

A report notes the rise of ISIS in Libya, “The international community is rightly worried about the spread of the Islamic State and its ideology. The fact that IS forces have even managed to take hold in Libya, so far afield from the group’s original strongholds in Syria and Iraq, has been a source of considerable anxiety. Yet over the past two weeks IS forces in Libya have suffered a shattering defeat — and the outside world has barely paid attention. The lack of coverage undoubtedly reflects the lack of reliable news media on the ground. But it could also have something to do with the fact that the news isn’t entirely good. As it turns out, an IS defeat doesn’t necessarily mean that the good guys are winning”.

The article mentions that “On June 9, fighting broke out in the eastern city of Derna between IS fighters and the forces of the Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC), a militia linked to Al Qaeda. The clashes broke out after IS militants killed one of DMSC’s leaders. In one day, the DMSC fighters rose up and expelled IS from the city, forcing them to retreat to their hideouts in the remote Green Mountains. These developments are important for several reasons. First, the city witnessed something of a popular uprising against the Islamic State. Unarmed people, angered by the alien and repressive practices IS has implemented in the city since it seized power last year, took to the streets in protest. As was perhaps to be expected, given the group’s zero tolerance for peaceful opposition, IS fighters opened fire on the crowd, killing at least seven and wounding more than 30. According to my own conversations with sources in Derna, the ensuing confrontations lasted for several days. In the end the DMSC effectively joined forces with the Libyan National Army, which is loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan government”.

The article notes that “For now, the clear winners in this tragic episode are the people of Derna. Some of the policies imposed by IS throughout the last year have been revoked and a sense of normalcy is returning to the city. Banks are reopening, local radio stations are back on air, cigarettes shops are opening doors again, and young people are blasting loud music as they drive around the city. Over the last few days in Tobruk, I spoke with a number of displaced families from Derna, and they all told me that they’re eagerly planning to go home. All these are positive and welcome developments. Even so, the picture is not quite as rosy as it might seem. Derna still faces serious obstacles on the way to a sustainable peace. The first problem is that it remains under the control of yet another Islamist militia. Despite enjoying support from the local population in its fight against the Islamic State”.

Interestingly it add “It’s worth noting that the DMSC allowed IS to flourish in the city under their watch, and only decided to confront them when the other militants attacked their leaders. Nor did the DMSC do anything to stop the Islamic State’s terror tactics, which included public executions, the beheading of activists, and even the crucifixion of a local family. The DMSC have already started taking steps to consolidate their rule by announcing their intention to form a local authority that will run the city’s affairs”.

Worryingly the report goes on to note “then there’s the looming possibility of IS retaliation. In February, Islamic State forces carried out suicide bombings in the town of Qubba, not far from Derna, that killed more than 45 people in response to joint Egyptian-Libyan airstrikes against IS positions in Derna. It’s above all the fear of a new wave of IS reprisals that is leading people in the city to tolerate the presence of DMSC”.

It ends “Truly sustainable peace and stability require the creation of a state-sanctioned force to protect the city from any threats from groups such as IS. After that, the internationally recognized government in Tobruk or a future Government of National Accord (as recently proposed by United Nations mediators) would help to set up a local administration to run the affairs of the city and bring it back under state control. Most importantly, the Libyan authorities and international organizations should work to create an environment in which civil society organizations can flourish, a key precondition for countering extremist ideology. Defeating the extremists and establishing conditions conducive to stability in Derna would send a welcome signal for positive change to the rest of Libya”.



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