Chaos-ridden Libya is experiencing an Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) resurgence that is posing a clear and present danger to Europe while the jihadist group’s so-called caliphate continues to dwindle in Iraq and Syria, primarily at the hands of the U.S-led coalition, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Libya, a jihadi breeding ground located just across the Mediterranean only a few hundred miles from the European coast, is currently home to a regenerating ISIS wing, presently comprised of nearly 500 terrorists.
The ISIS branch in Libya is reportedly seeking to exploit the ongoing migrant flow into Europe and carry out attacks there.
“Islamic State said two years ago that it planned to infiltrate migrant groups and carry out attacks in Europe,” notes WSJ. “Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and arrived in Italy this year.”
“They [ISIS] consider Libya to be the main entrance to Europe,” Abu Baara al-Ansari, a Syrian who says he defected from the terrorist group in June, told the Journal via the Telegram encrypted messaging system.
ISIS terrorists are reportedly capitalizing on the deteriorating security condition in Libya, trying to re-establish its stronghold there as its members are increasingly pushed out of the Middle East.
The Journal reports:
Islamic State has formed a number of clandestine cells in Libya a year after losing its main stronghold in the chaotic North African country, part of the militant group’s efforts to regroup on Europe’s doorstep.
The small cells, comprising up to several dozen fighters, have set up new bases outside Libyan towns in the past several months and started making money by hijacking commercial trucks and extorting migrant-smuggling rings, according to Libyan and European security officials.
Echoing the U.S. military, armed groups in Libya for months have been warning that ISIS is “regrouping” in Libya following their American-backed defeat late last year in the coastal city of Sirte, once considered the organization’s largest stronghold outside its Middle East-based caliphate.
Despite the group’s collapse in Sirte, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees American military activities in Africa, estimates that an estimated 500 ISIS members remain “active in Libya now,” down from a peak of 4,000 to 6,000 when the group still held Sirte, notes the Journal.
WSJ concedes that other officials have said it is hard to estimate how many ISIS fighters are still in Libya, noting that the group can operate “relatively unhindered” across the country.
A resurgent ISIS “is definitely becoming a problem in Libya,” an unnamed European security official told WSJ, indicating that “the terror group can raise revenue in Libya by tapping lucrative rackets and take advantage of weapon stockpiles in a country that is both vast and politically unstable.”
The Journal reports the Islamic State’s “efforts to stage a comeback in Libya” have prompted concern among European officials, adding that jihadists have increasingly traveled from Syria to Europe to engage in deadly terrorist attacks in recent years.
Just recently, British authorities identified one of the suspects of the ISIS-claimed London subway bombing that left an estimated 30 people wounded as 21-year-old Syrian refugee Yahyah Farroukh.
The United Nations-backed government in Tripoli failed to respond to WSJ’s requests for comment about ISIS activities in Libya.
Nevertheless, armed groups in Libya, including some affiliated with the U.N.-brokered government, have warned against the growing ISIS presence in Libya in recent months.
ISIS is reportedly urging its members to abandon the shrinking Islamic State caliphate in Iraq and Syria and travel to Libya to join their fellow terrorists there.
The Journal learned from an unnamed U.S. State Department official that there has been “a marked decrease” in the number of foreign fighters traveling to or from war-devastated Libya.
Nevertheless, “European security officials and the Islamic State defector say the group’s fighters—including Syrians and Iraqis, as well as Libyans—have been trying to enter Libya in hopes of reaching Europe to launch attacks.
European officials told WSJ foreign fighters are entering Libya overland through Sudan, flying there from Turkey and Syria.
Libya has descended into chaos since the U.S.-backed overthrow and execution of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, with warring factions fighting for territory and influence.
There are two rival governments operating in the country—the U.N.-backed one in Tripoli and its Russian-backed counterpart in eastern Libya’s Tobruk.