Islamic State group 'expanding in Libya'

Islamic State group 'expanding in Libya'
United Nations experts monitoring sanctions against Libya say the Islamic State group is exploiting the political turmoil in the country and continues to successfully recruit people from marginalised communities.
4 min read
11 March, 2016
Libya has effectively been a failed state since the 2011 ousting of Muammar Gaddafi [Getty]

The political and security vacuum in Libya is being exploited by the Islamic State group which has "significantly expanded" the territory it controls in the conflict-torn north African nation, UN experts have said in a new report.

The experts monitoring UN sanctions against Libya said the militant group has successfully recruited marginalised communities in the central city of Sirte, which it controls.

It has also increased its operational capacity in the city of Sabratha and the capital, Tripoli, through local recruitment reinforced by foreign fighters, the experts said on Thursday.

"While IS does not currently generate direct revenue from the exploitation of oil in Libya, its attacks against oil installations seriously compromise the country's economic stability," the six-member panel said in the report.

"Libyans have increasingly fallen victim to the terrorist group's brutalities, culminating in several mass killings."

Libya has effectively been a failed state since the 2011 ousting and death of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, which led to the country's military collapse and fragmentation by powerful militias.

Libya has become increasingly attractive to foreign fighters and their presence in the south is symptomatic of the regional dimension of the conflict
   What's been going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Since 2014, an internationally recognised government has convened in the far east of the vast, oil-rich country, while a rival Islamist government is based in Tripoli.

The United Nations has been trying to help forge a unity government to revive services to millions of people and confront IS extremists.

According to the experts, Libya has become increasingly attractive to foreign fighters and their presence in the south "is symptomatic of the regional dimension of the conflict".

It added that countries in the region have been providing political support - and possibly more - to various groups, further fuelling the continuation of fighting.

The report to the UN Security Council said all parties in the conflict were continuing to receive illicit arms transfers, some with support from UN member countries.

These weapons are not only influencing the instability but are having "a negative impact on the security situation in Libya and its political transition," the report said.

The experts called for the arms embargo - which allows the government to seek exemptions - to remain in place and be more strictly enforced.

As for the financing of Libyan armed groups, the report said "government salaries are continuing to be paid to enlisted combatants, regardless of their human rights record or their ties with spoilers or terrorist groups".

The experts said armed groups and criminal networks in Libya have further diversified their sources of financing, including through kidnapping and smuggling migrants, oil products, subsidised goods and profits from foreign currency exchange schemes.

As for other sanctions, the report said asset freezes and travel bans on individuals from the Gaddafi regime continue to be broken, with large amounts of assets remaining hidden and unfrozen and travel bans repeatedly violated.

The report comes as President Obama appeared to criticise European leaders, particularly British Prime Minister David Cameron and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for failing to follow up the NATO-led military intervention that led to Gaddafi's fall with state-building measures.