U.S officials are expressing concern about the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) jihadist group’s expansion into Libya.
While the world has been gripped by the terrorist organization’s latest acts of brutality — the death of a Japanese journalist, a Japanese adventurer, and a Jordanian pilot — the Islamic extremists have been expanding outside of Iraq and Syria, reports ABC News.
“In particular, several counter-terrorism officials expressed deep concern about ISIS asserting itself in Libya, where the U.S. is still reeling from the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya,” the article notes.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has also expressed concern about ISIS branching out of Iraq and Syria.
“Particularly concerning has been the spread of ISIL beyond Syria and Iraq. With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas,” U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the DIA director, wrote in the agency’s World Threat Assessment prepared for a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week.
“In Libya, political instability and ongoing militia violence have worsened over the year, exacerbating conditions that have already made Libya an attractive terrorist safe haven,” he added. “ISIL has increased its presence and influence in Libya, particularly in Darnah, where it has begun establishing Islamic institutions. Without a unified government and capable military, there is limited possibility of stability in the near-term.”
An anonymous counter-terrorism official expressed similar concerns to ABC News last week.
“I am becoming concerned with how quickly their new affiliates are getting organized,” said the counter-terrorism official who watches ISIS developments closely.
“They pretty much own Libya,” a second official involved in counter-terrorism operations told ABC News. “We have zero collection there and zero authorities there.”
Last month, gunmen linked to ISIS stormed a luxury hotel in Tripoli killing at least 10 people, including decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran David Berry, who was there as a contractor.
“For several months, ISIS besieging the strategically-insignificant town of Kobane in Syria garnered considerable global attention even as ISIS essentially overran much of Iraq’s Anbar province west of Baghdad and made barely-noticed inroads within Libya, the Sinai and Yemen,” reports ABC News.
“Since ISIS announced in November it had accepted a pledge of loyalty from a group it set up in Libya, the affiliate there has released about a dozen communiques in the model of its parent organization announcing beheadings to enforce religious Shariah law, assassinations, the kidnappings of 21 Christian ‘crusaders’ and the Corinthia Hotel attack,” it adds. “But to date the Libyan affiliate has not commanded the spotlight the way core-ISIS has in Iraq and Syria.”
ISIS has also reportedly expanded to the Khorasan, a region that encompasses Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the surrounding countries.
A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes against ISIS in Syria since last September. Coalition airstrikes against the jihadist group in Iraq started last August.