The thousands of Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadis in Libya have reportedly expanded their resurgence in the region in recent months amid the fall of the group’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The terrorists are reportedly exploiting the clashes between the two rival governments in the country as a cover and distraction to launch a surprise deadly attack against the town of Al-Fuqah in the last few days.
ISIS has steadily been making a comeback after losing its grip of Libya’s coastal Sirte to U.S.-backed local fighters in late 2016, once considered the group’s largest stronghold outside its now decimated territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
In October 2018, Frank Kryza from the Chatham House think-tank’s Royal Institute of International Affairs declared in an editorial, “There is a significant risk that Libya will become the new caliphate, the long-sought Islamic State.”
Libya is located a few hundred miles from the coast of Europe and some experts have warned Sirte, in particular, could be used as a launchpad for attacks against Europeans.
“If we do nothing, Libya will cease to exist as a country. Imagine, if you can, an Islamic caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea not far from Italy. It is a grim vision,” Frank Kryza from Chatham House wrote.
Libya’s two prominent warring factions — the forces of Russia- and France-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar and those of internationally-recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s administration – have been clashing in Tripoli, undermining U.S. military efforts against ISIS since the American troops “temporarily” left due to the ongoing unrest.
ISIS capitalized on the opportunity stemming from ongoing tensions between the two sides to launch a surprise nighttime assault on al-Fuqaha, the pro-Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad al-Masdar News (AMN) agency reported Monday.
AMN reveals ISIS conducted the deadly assault in Fuqaha using dozens of jihadis transported into the area in 13 vehicles.
Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) — loyal to the renegade government based in eastern Tobruk region — reportedly killed two jihadis in the town after they executed two local police officers and killed the police chief’s spouse and set his house and office ablaze.
The jihadis also kidnapped a dozen people before abandoning the town.
In the wake of the attack on the town, ISIS’s media unit disseminated several images of the alleged operation, including jihadis executing law enforcement officials.
Soon after U.S.-backed local forces pushed ISIS out of Sirte in 2016, American and Libyan military officials warned about a potential resurgence of the terrorist group, noting the jihadists were regrouping outside of Sirte in deserts and mountainous regions of Libya.
ISIS remains a “potent menace” in Libya, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found in September 2018, adding, “In July 2018, United Nations reporting citing Member State information estimated that the group has 3,000 and 4,000 members and ‘still has the capacity to launch significant attacks within Libya and across the border.’”
Echoing other experts, Kryza from Chatham House declared Libya’s descent into chaos following the U.S.-backed overthrow and execution of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 is providing a fertile ground for ISIS to flourish.
Citing the CIA, Kryza estimates Libya is already home to “between 20,000 and 30,000 ISIS fighters.”