Jihadist websites belong to the Libyan terror group Ansar al-Sharia have claimed (Arabic link) that the group’s leader Abu Abdullah al-Libi pledged loyalty to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Libi announced his movement’s loyalty to ISIS in a video distributed in jihadist forums associated with the organization.
Al-Baghdadi ordered his fighters in Libya to recruit members of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi to join the ISIS ranks, in order to weaken al-Qaeda and increase ISIS’s foothold in Libya. Most of Benghazi is currently under control of the Libyan army, but parts of the city are controlled by Ansar al-Sharia.
Ansar al-Sharia is the largest armed jihadist group in Libya with thousands of fighters, including foreign fighters from Tunisia, Algeria, and other African countries. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the governments of both the United States and the Libyan parliament. Washington charged the organization with responsibility for the deadly attack that took place in September 2012 against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which the ambassador and three other Americans were murdered. The organization, which previously fought against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, seeks to impose Islamic law in Libya.
Since the overthrow of Gaddafi’s rule in October 2011, Libya has fallen into chaos in which armed militias control different areas and the government has been unable to stabilize the situation and rule the country. According to a BBC investigation, there could be up to 1,700 different armed groups in Libya competing for power.
In Libya there are currently two rival governments. One government operates from the capital Tripoli, in western Libya, and is supported by the “Dawn of Libya,” an organization that supports the ideology of al-Qaeda and consists mainly of Gaddafi opponents. The second government, which is internationally recognized as legitimate, sits in Benghazi in the east, supported by the Libyan Army and General Khalifa Haftar, who was a colonel under Gaddafi. Neither of the governments nor any other force operating in Libya has complete control over what is happening in the country.
This chaos is exploited by terrorist organizations like ISIS, which recorded its first appearance in Libya at the end of last summer. The group’s jihadists come from local militias that expressed loyalty to ISIS, but also include foreigners, many of whom come from Tunisia. In October 2014, ISIS officially announced the expansion of its caliphate to Libya, and in November the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in the city of Derna pledged loyalty to ISIS. Since then, ISIS has also taken over the cities of Nofilia and Sirte. In late January 2015, ISIS carried out a murderous attack in a hotel in Tripoli and later posted a video of the shocking beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptians.
Libya is not only a gateway to Europe, but also to three other North African countries—Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The chaos in Libya is also a clear threat to Egypt on its eastern border. Since the beheadings in February, Egyptian and Saudi officials have called for a joint Arab military intervention in Libya in order to fight the jihadists.
[Photo from Ansar al-Sharia social media accounts]