On August 23, 2018, militants attacked a border checkpoint outside the town of Zliten, killing at least four. ISIS claimed responsibility two days later through its Amaq News Agency. ISIS claimed it killed seven and wounded 10, but the group provided no evidence. On August 26, 2018, local militias clashed with al-Kani tribal fighters from Tarhouna for control in Tripoli, killing at least four and wounding seven during three days of fighting. Both groups are allied with the Government of National Accord. The Libyan government declares a state of emergency. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Reuters)

Overview

ISIS was officially established in Libya in November 2014. Since then, the group has become the most powerful ISIS affiliate outside of Syria and Iraq as well as the most powerful extremist group operating in Libya. A number of Islamist extremist groups compete with ISIS, such as the Derna Protection Forces, a coalition of Islamist groups fighting against Libyan government forces that has also pledged to drive ISIS out of Libya. (Sources: New York Times, The Maghrebi Note, CNN, New York Times, Reuters)

Rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk further complicate Libya’s political landscape and ability to combat extremists. Following a widespread loss for Islamist parties in the 2014 parliamentary elections, Islamist parties established a rival parliament in Tripoli and pushed the internationally recognized Council of Deputies legislature out of the capital to the Libyan city of Tobruk. Yet another faction, the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, dominates the country’s eastern region. This governmental split has allowed Islamist groups to operate with near impunity and has enabled Libya to become a hub for the smuggling and sale of arms, migrants, and drugs to prop up terror entities. (Sources: Latin American Herald Tribune, Yahoo News, United States Institute for Peace (USIP))

In December 2015, representatives of Libya’s rival governments signed a U.N.-brokered power-sharing agreement in Morocco to form a national unity government, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). By March 2016, the Tripoli-based GNA assumed sole authority in Libya. In October 2016, however, Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell of the former Islamist Government of National Salvation (GNS), attempted to revive the Islamist governing body by staging an attempted coup against the GNA. Backed by the presidential guard and several Islamist militias, Ghwell seized control of several government buildings, including the parliament. The GNA and GNS continue to compete for power in Tripoli. On January 12, 2017, the GNS seized additional GNA buildings, including the ministries of defense, martyrs’ affairs, and labor. (Sources: New York Times, Guardian, CNN, Reuters, Reuters, Washington Post, European Council on Foreign Relations, Associated Press, Libyan Observer)

In May 2016, GNA forces, in coordination with pro-government militias, launched a battle for the coastal city of Sirte, which had become an ISIS stronghold. On August 1, the United States launched Operation Odyssey Lightening in support of the Libyan offensive. On December 5, forces loyal to the GNA and backed by U.S. airstrikes seized full control Sirte. The U.S. military officially ended its operations in Sirte on December 21, 2016, following the capture of the city. The U.S. military has continued to carry out airstrikes in Libya against ISIS and al-Qaeda targets. (Sources: New York Times, Al Arabiya, Guardian, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America)

In a move to demonstrate support for nascent political stability in Libya, the Italian government reopened its embassy in Tripoli on January 10, 2017. Italy closed its embassy in Libya in 2015, along with many other Western countries, in response to increased violence. Italy’s foreign minister said the reopening showed “confidence in the process of stabilizing the country.” (Source: Al Araby)

On April 24, 2017, following meetings in Rome overseen by Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, the leaders of Libya’s rival factions—represented by Ageela Saleh, president of the House of Representatives, and Abdulrahman Sewehli, president of the state council—reached a new political agreement to resolve differences. In particular, the parties discussed the future military and political role in any unity government of Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Haftar. In July 2017, the opposing governments reached a ceasefire agreement and called for national elections, which are expected in December 2018. (Sources: Guardian, BBC News, CNN, Al Jazeera)

Most of the Libyan population is staunchly opposed to Islamic extremism and terrorism and supports a centralized Libyan government. Unlike ISIS recruiting efforts in Iraq and Syria, where the group has benefited from Sunni-Shiite rivalries, the Libyan power struggle exists among Libya-based Sunni Islamist groups, pro-government factions and ISIS sympathizers. (Sources: Yahoo News, Associated Press, Newsweek, Foreign Policy)

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

Libya is formally run by the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli since December 2015, when Libya’s rival parliaments—the Islamist General National Council (GNC) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in Tobruk (HoR)—signed a U.N.-brokered power-sharing agreement.

However, ever since an attempted coup by the Government of National Salvation (GNS) in October 2016, the GNS has seized several GNA government facilities. The GNA and GNS continue to compete for governing power in Tripoli. Under the December 2015 power-sharing agreement, the HoR in Tobruk is supposed to be the legislative authority of Libya. The HoR, however, endorsed another rival government in the eastern city of al-Bayda lead by Abdullah al-Thinini. The HoR and al-Bayda governments are under control of the Libya National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist military leader. Outside the government are Islamist jihadist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, among other smaller groups. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, International Crisis Group, European Council on Foreign Relations, Associated Press, Libya Observer)

On May 18, 2017, members of a militia loyal to the U.N.-backed GNA in Tripoli allegedly carried out summary executions of mostly soldiers loyal to Haftar’s LNA at Brak El-Shati, an airbase in southern Libya, killing 141 people. An LNA spokesman said victims included civilians who worked at the airbase or were in the nearby area. The GNA denied ordering the attack, condemned it, and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate it. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Guardian)

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) was a violent jihadist group that sought to implement sharia (Islamic law) in Libya. ASL emerged in 2011 during the Libyan civil was as a result of the union between the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade in Benghazi (ASB) and Ansar al-Sharia Derna (ASD). In 2012, ASB and ASD, alongside other Islamist militant groups, attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. (Sources: Long War Journal, Foreign Policy)

Like many Islamist groups in Libya, ASL resisted calls to swear allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Beginning in 2012, ASL increased ties with international violent jihadist groups, including by holding clandestine meetings with al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and training and exporting fighters to conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Mali. In the past, ASL’s former leader, Mohamed al-Zahawi, had openly declared his support for al-Qaeda. (Sources: Long War Journal, Foreign Policy)

Despite some initial media reports that the two groups were aligned, ISIS posed a major threat to ASL. Like many Islamist groups in Libya, ASL resisted calls to swear allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ASL has suffered numerous prominent defections to ISIS. In winter 2014-2015, ISIS captured the previously ASL-dominated cities of Derna and Sirte although ASL was able to maintain a presence on the outskirts of Derna. In June 2015, ASL and ISIS came into open conflict. (Sources: Long War Journal, The Wasat, BBC News)

Since the start of the Syrian civil war, ASL has trained militants seeking to fight in Syria. ASL has also trained militants and who have joined other North African jihadist groups. For example, half of the 24 militants involved in the January 2013 Algerian In Amenas gas complex attack had trained in ASL camps in Benghazi. (Sources: All Africa, Newsweek, Al-Wasat, i24 News, Al Jazeera)

In August 2014, ASL joined the newly formed Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a merger of several Islamist and Jihadist factions in Benghazi, in the hopes of remaining a participant in political negotiations. In the summer of 2016, ASL and the BRSC joined the umbrella organization Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) as the Libyan National Army bore down on the Islamist factions in Benghazi. Analysts saw the merger as a sign of ASL’s weakening presence in the country. After enduring three years of debilitating losses of fighters and leaders, ASL officially disbanded on May 28, 2017. (Sources: Jamestown Foundation, Long War Journal, Al Jazeera)

ISIS in Libya

ISIS established itself in Libya by winning allegiance from local groups like the Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islami (MSSI). The transnational terror group also relies on Libyan recruits who have returned home from fighting in Iraq and Syria. (Sources: The Maghrebi Note, Business Insider, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Guardian)

In December 2014, U.S. officials reported that ISIS was running training camps in the Green Mountains, which are just outside of Derna. In January 2015, Wissam abd Zaid al-Jubori, a former Iraqi Special Forces officer and now ISIS Governor of Kirkuk, was dispatched to Libya to help establish an ISIS branch in Tripoli. ISIS has divided Libya into three states or wilayat: Wilayat Tripolitania, the western province, Wilayat Fezzan, the southern province, and Wilayat Barqa, the eastern province. (Sources: The Maghrebi Note, Business Insider, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Guardian)

On December 5, 2016, Libyan officials announced that the pro-government forces officially seized full control of the Sirte from the terror group.

A commander of the Libya Dawn forces stated that Libyan ISIS fighters “have been joined by foreigners, Sudanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis.” Reports have found that European foreign fighters for ISIS have increasingly favored joining ISIS in Libya in order to avoid government detection. Due to heightened screening measures at European airports, militants have started crossing to Europe via ferry, transiting to Italy, then sailing to Tunisia, from where they can cross into Libya. (Sources: The Maghrebi Note, Business Insider, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Guardian)

In spring 2015, ISIS began expanding in the central coast of Libya, eventually seizing and establishing a stronghold in the city of Sirte. In February 2016, American intelligence estimated that the ISIS affiliate in Libya numbered 6,500 fighters. By August 2016, however, the U.S. military estimated that ISIS ranks had shrank to somewhere between a few hundred and 2,000 fighters. In mid-January 2017, the Pentagon acknowledged that ISIS ranks in Libya had fallen but would not say by how much. (Sources: Reuters, NBC News, Air Force Times)

On May 12, 2016, the Libyan unity government in coordination with pro-government militias launched a major offensive against ISIS in Sirte. In August 2016, the United States began supporting the Libyan forces with airstrikes to help retake the city. By October 2016, pro-government forces captured most the city from ISIS, leaving a few hundred militants backed into a single street in northern Sirte. On December 5, 2016, Libyan officials announced that the pro-government forces officially seized full control of the Sirte from the terror group. (Sources: Al-Arabiya, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, New York Times)

In mid-January 2017, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes near Sirte against terrorist training camps where ISIS members were believed to be planning terrorist attacks in Europe, killing as many as 80. Prior to the airstrikes, trucks were seen carrying fighters and rocket-propelled grenades into the camps. Then U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said those killed “were actively plotting operations in Europe and may also have been connected to attacks that have already occurred in Europe.” In September 2017, the United States launched its first airstrikes in Libya under President Donald Trump, killing 17 alleged ISIS fighters. Two June 2018 U.S. airstrikes killed four ISIS fighters and an al-Qaeda militant. An August 2018 U.S. airstrike killed an “ISIS-Libya terrorist,” according to the U.S. Africa Command. (Source: Guardian, Fox News, NBC News, NBC News, Voice of America)

In May 2017, possible links emerged between ISIS elements in Libya and a deadly bombing in the United Kingdom. Two days after the May 22 Manchester concert attack, the Libyan anti-terrorism force, the Special Deterrence Force, arrested the father of suicide attacker Salman Abedi and his younger brother Hashem in Tripoli. Abedi’s father, Ramadan, had alleged links to the al-Qaeda-backed Libyan Islamic Fighting group in the 1990s. Hashem Abedi reportedly confessed to Libyan forces that both he and his brother were members of ISIS and that Hashem “knew all the details” of the plan to commit an attack in Manchester. Hashem may also have been planning a separate attack in Tripoli. Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, reportedly spent four weeks in Libya before returning to Manchester to carry out the attack, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. While in Libya, he reportedly met with members of an ISIS cell linked to a November 2015 terror attack in Paris. In November 2017, the U.K. government requested Hashem Abedi’s extradition, which the Special Deterrence Force refused. The British government has since issued an arrest warrant for Abedi. (Sources: Telegraph, Washington Post, Fox News, New York Times, New York Times, Daily Mail, Reuters)

Manchester is home to one of the largest Libyan communities outside Libya, according to Nazir Afsal, a former British prosecutor. An unspecified but significant number of Libyans from Manchester have left as foreign fighters to Libya and Syria, according to Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute of London. (Source: New York Times)

Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islami

In June 2014, Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islami (MSSI, Shura Council of Islamic Youth) became the first group in Libya to declare allegiance to ISIS. Based in Derna, MSSI are extremists who have returned from fighting in Mali, Algeria, and Syria. After aligning itself with ISIS, MSSI was subsumed into “The Islamic State in Libya.” As part of ISIS, MSSI began to impose sharia in Derna, executing two men for theft and murder in July, publicly executing another in a football stadium in August, and flogging several for alcohol consumption. (Sources: Washington Institute, Institute for the Study of War)

In September 2014, ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dispatched his senior aide Abu Nabil al-Anbari to help seize Derna. Al-Anbari worked closely with MSSI. In October 2014, MSSI with support from ISIS was able to take over a number of public buildings in Derna and recast them as sharia committees, courts, and governance buildings. On November 10, 2014, alongside multiple jihadist groups in Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen, MSSI officially declared allegiance to ISIS. (Sources: Institute for the Study of War, The Line of Steel)

Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade

The Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), an Islamist militia based in Derna, battled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s forces during the 2011 civil war. Abd al-Hakim al-Hasadi created the Darnah Brigade early on during the war, and the group later renamed itself the ASMB. The group’s goal is to establish an Islamic state within Libya. In mid-2012, they began working toward that end, closing beauty parlors and enforcing strict social-conduct laws. (Sources: TRAC, Time)

After the fall of the Gaddafi regime, Abu Sufyan bin Qumu, a known al-Qaeda affiliate and later founder of Ansar al-Sharia Derna, joined the leadership of the ASMB. Qumu reportedly led training for the group. He later broke from the group over disagreements about his connections with al-Qaeda. A video, thought to have been filmed in spring 2012, showed another al-Qaeda operative, Abd al-Basit Azuz, speaking to the ASMB in Derna. Azuz, a former member of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan, had reportedly been dispatched to Derna by al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri to establish an al-Qaeda presence in the city.  (Sources: TRAC, Time, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Vying for power in March 2012, ASMB militants reportedly assassinated Muhammad al-Hasi, a former Libyan army colonel in charge of internal security in Derna. Despite the ASMB’s suspected role in the assassination, the group was soon after incorporated into the Libyan government’s Supreme Security Committee (SSC), the Ministry of the Interior’s nascent security force. (Sources: TRAC, Time, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Line of Steel)

In 2014, the ASMB came increasingly in conflict with the jihadist group Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islami (MSSI). MSSI regarded the ASMB as too connected to the Libyan government, as the ASMB had provided security for Libyan government officials and had joined the SSC. Unlike MSSI, the ASMB has consistently refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS. (Sources: TRAC, Time, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Line of Steel, New York Times)

In May 2014, MSSI assassinated Abu Bilal, a leader in the ASMB. ISIS then branded ASMB “apostates.” Conflict only escalated from there. The ASMB was pushed to the outskirts of Derna when the MSSI seized much of the town in October 2014. In December 2014, the ASMB, ASL’s branch in Derna, and other Islamist groups joined together as the Mujahedeen Shura Council (MSC). In June 2015, ISIS assassinated ASMB leader Salim Derby. MSC subsequently vowed to eliminate ISIS and take back control of Derna. In 2018, the group changed its name to the Derna Protection Forces. (Sources: TRAC, Time, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Line of Steel, New York Times, Libya Observer, Reuters, Reuters)

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

Assassinations and Targeted Killings

An “anti-ISIS activist” in Derna claimed in a March 2015 Newsweek article that 275 people had been assassinated in the city without follow-up criminal investigation since 2011. Human Rights Watch asserts that dozens of judges, activists, public officials, and members of security forces have been assassinated in Derna in 2014. Most notably in June and July 2014, two prominent women’s rights activists and female politicians were assassinated in Derna and Benghazi. In one 24-hour period in Benghazi, 10 journalists, activists, or members of law enforcement were murdered, a testament to the level of violence pervasive in the country. (Sources: Newsweek, ReliefWeb, International Business Times)

Reporters Without Borders in 2014 ranked Libya as the fifth most deadly country for journalists. With the rise of Islamist militias, violence towards reporters has only increased. In 2014, at least eight journalists were confirmed killed in Libya, including five Libyan journalists found dead outside Benghazi, two Tunisian journalists executed by ISIS, and a Benghazi journalist murdered in his office. In July 2016, Reporters Without Borders asked Libya’s Government of National Accord to take steps to protect journalists after freelance reporter Khaled al-Zantani was allegedly deliberately targeted and killed by an ISIS sniper. Another journalist was killed in Libya in July and a third in October 2016. (Sources: Reporters Without Borders, Huffington Post, Reuters, All Africa, Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders)

Attacks on Religious Minorities

Libyan militant groups have launched multiple attacks on religious minorities living within the country. Notably, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) has targeted Sufi Muslims. In August 2012, ASL destroyed a mosque and a Sufi shrine in western Libya, both of which contained tombs of Sufi saints. In April 2015, unidentified militants detonated a bomb outside of a Sufi mosque in Tripoli. The building was destroyed although no one was injured. (Sources: Foreign Policy, World Bulletin)

In February 2015, ISIS released a video showing militants beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.

In February 2015, ISIS released a video showing militants beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. Following the release, reports emerged that ISIS had kidnapped an additional 35 Egyptian Christians. Later that month, Libyan police discovered the bodies of seven Egyptian Christians shot in the head execution style on a beach outside of Benghazi. No group claimed responsibility for the killings. On April 19, 2015, ISIS released a video of the beheading and shooting of at least 30 Ethiopian Christians. After the release of the video, Meron Estafanos, an Eritrean human rights activist, stated that the video had been edited, claiming that 64 people had been killed, several of them Eritreans. (Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times, International Business Times)

Previously, Libya had been an extremely popular destination among Egyptian laborers. However, it was reported in late April 2015 that since the release of the February ISIS beheading video, more than 38,000 Egyptians had fled Libya. Some Christian refugees who fled across the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe reported they had to deny their faith in order to avoid execution by ISIS militants. One refugee stated that “hundreds of Christians” had been beheaded or shot for their faith.(Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times, International Business Times, Reuters, Fox News, Cairo Post, Christian Post)

Attacks on Foreign Embassies and Diplomatic Missions

Since 2011, militant groups have launched multiple terror attacks on embassies within Libya. ISIS militants launched a wave of attacks in spring 2015 targeting nations involved in the U.N.-brokered Libyan peace negotiations. These negotiations sought to reconcile the rival governments based in Tripoli and Tobruk. Sponsored by South Korean U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the negotiations have been held in Algeria and Morocco. Additionally, the head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya at the time, Bernardino León, is Spanish. As such, the South Korean, Spanish, Algerian, and Moroccan embassies have been attacked by ISIS militants. The South Korean embassy, the only embassy still staffed (albeit lightly) in the country as of July 2015, was the only embassy to suffer any casualties when two Libyan guards were killed in a shooting. (Sources: International Business Times, Fox News, Reuters)

ISIS militants have also bombed the Egyptian and Emirati embassies, likely due to their backing of the Tobruk government, and the Iranian embassy, likely related to its backing of the Assad regime. Additionally, in 2012, in Benghazi, there was an assassination attempt on the British ambassador and an attack on the U.S. consulate. (Sources: International Business Times, Fox News, Reuters, Daily Mail)

In January 2017, a U.S. State Department Travel Warning cautioned Americans “against all travel to Libya” and recommended that Americans currently in Libya “depart immediately.” (Source: U.S. Department of State)

Benghazi U.S. Consulate Attack in 2012

On September 11, 2012, multiple extremist organizations launched a coordinated, premeditated attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. These extremists groups included al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), Abu Abaaydah Ibn Jarah Battalion (UJB), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS), the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN), and unaffiliated Gaddafi loyalists. (Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Foreign Policy)

Initial reports indicated that the attack was part of a wider protest movement in response to the release of the film, The Innocence of Muslims. However, subsequent investigations have revealed that the attack had been planned before the release of the movie. In the aftermath of the attack, eyewitness reports emerged indicating that there were no protests prior to the attack against the U.S. consulate. (Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Foreign Policy)

The attacks began just before 10:00 p.m. on September 11, when roughly 150 armed men sealed off major roads leading to the consulate with gun trucks. The assailants descended on the mission armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms. The attackers easily scared off five local Libyan guards outside, who were equipped only with baseball bats, and breached the gates of the compound. (Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Associated Press, New York Post)

The attackers set fire to the consulate’s buildings, including “Villa C,” the main building where Ambassador Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and a Diplomatic Security (DS) Agent were located. Both Smith and Stevens succumbed to smoke inhalation in the building while the DS agent was able to escape. (Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Associated Press, New York Post)

At around 11:30 p.m., arms fire forced the small CIA security team to evacuate to the nearby annex. The departure of the security team led to a mass looting of the consulate with more than 100 individuals entering the compound. Soon after, a second attack began on the CIA annex. The attacks on the annex came in multiple waves and included combinations of small arms, mortars, satchel charges, and grenades. The final and most deadly attack came just after 5:00 a.m. when a mortar barrage killed two American security personnel, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and wounded a DS agent and CIA security officer. (Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Associated Press, New York Post)

Corinthia Hotel Attack

On January 28, 2015, ISIS militants detonated a bomb on a street outside of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, instantly killing three guards. ISIS militants then rushed into the hotel, taking hostages and firing at employees and guests. Ultimately, two of the attackers were killed, a Tunisian and a Sudanese man. The attack claimed the lives of five foreigners, including three people from Tajikistan, one from France, and one American private security contractor, along with five Libyan guards. After the attack, ISIS announced that the attack was in revenge for the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi in U.S. custody. (Sources: CNN, Wall Street Journal)

Attacks on the Petroleum Industry

Since 2015, ISIS-affiliated militants have attacked a number of oil facilities in Libya, in an effort to destroy the country’s energy sector. Targets of the attacks have included the Mabruk and Bahi oil fields in February 2015; the Darha and Ghani oil fields in March 2015; the Mellitah oil port in July 2015; Es Sider in January 2016 and March 2017; Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, and Zueitina in September 2016. (Sources: New York Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)

Since 2015, ISIS-affiliated militants have attacked a number of oil facilities in Libya, in an effort to destroy the country’s energy sector.

On February 3, 2015, unidentified militants stormed the Mabruk oil facility south of Sirte, killing and beheading 12. During the attack, one assailant allegedly told the victims that the attack was “your punishment for working with the ‘kuffar’ [non-Muslims].” Militants stormed the field again on February 13 and March 3. (Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal)

On February 13, 2015, militants attacked the Bahi oil facility in central Libya, but failed to inflict any damage. On March 3, unidentified militants again attacked, and ultimately captured, the oil station. (Sources: Reuters, Reuters)

On March 3, 2015, unidentified militants attacked the Dahra oil facility southeast of Tripoli. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

In March 2015, ISIS militants attacked the Ghani oil field southeast of Tripoli, reportedly beheading eight security guards and kidnapping nine foreign workers, including an Austrian, a Bangladeshi, a Czech, four Filipinos, and a Ghanaian. (Source: BBC News)

On July 19, 2015, militants kidnapped four Italian foreign workers from the Mellitah oil and gas port, east of Tripoli. (Source: Guardian)

On January 4, 2016, two ISIS militants were killed during a failed attempt to seize oil production facililites at Es Sider. (Source: BBC News, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times)

On January 9, 2016, ISIS militants attacked an oil tanker at Es Sider port. (Source: Daily Mail)

On September 11, 2016, forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter attacked and seized as many as three major oil fields in eastern Libya. (Source: New York Times).

On March 15, 2017, the Libyans National Army reclaimed the Es Sider oil port and the Ras Lanuf oil refinery after nearly two weeks of fighting against the Benghazi Defense Brigades, which had captured the locations from the army. (Source: The National)

Militant operations are not the only method extremists have used in order to undermine the country’s vital energy sector. In January 2013, militants assassinated a British man and a woman from New Zealand on a beach near an oil and gas plant, both of whom worked in the Libyan oil industry. In February 2015, a bomb detonated on a pipeline from the Libyan El Sarir shut down production at the field, one of the most productive in Libya still in operation. Overall, attacks on the oil industry, which the Libyan government depends on for 90 percent of their revenue, have forced the Libyan National Oil Corporation to declare force majeure at 11 of their oilfields. (Sources: Reuters, Guardian, Congressional Research Service)

Libyan oil production declined from over 1.6 million barrels per day since the start of the 2011 revolution to a reported 260,000 barrels of oil per day in February 2016. Additionally, ISIS militants still hold as of August 2015, at least 10 foreigners captured during oil infrastructure attacks. It was estimated in February 2016 by the head of Libya’s national oil company that the country had lost some $68 billion in oil revenues since 2013. The attacks on Libyan oil infrastructure have also had ripple effects across the world and analysts estimate the increase in the Brent Crude price in spring 2015 was partially due to the instability in Libya. Since late 2016, Libyan oil production has been rising. Since November 2016, production has risen 580,000 barrels per day to 700,000. As of January 2017, all of Libya’s main terminal were operating and Libya’s oil production rose to more than 1 million barrels per day by the end of the year. Nonetheless, attacks have continued into 2018. On June 14, 2018, the Benghazi Defense Brigades attacked Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, causing a production loss of 240,000 barrels per day. (Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Libya Business News, Reuters, New York Times, Guardian, Congressional Research Service, Business Insider, Reuters, New York Times, CNBC, Atlantic, Resilience.org, Reuters)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

Libya and Its Neighbors

On May 26, 2017, ISIS-affiliated extremists ambushed a convoy of buses carrying Coptic Christians to the Saint Samuel Monastery, located outside Minya city, about 200 kilometers south of Cairo, killing 29, including many children. In response, Egypt launched six air strikes on camps near Derna, Libya, where the terrorists are believed to have trained. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Guardian)

Following the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS in February 2015, Egypt launched airstrikes against the group in Libya. The operations targeted ISIS training camps and weapons caches in Derna and Sirte, killing 64 ISIS fighters, including three members of its local leadership. (Sources: Guardian, International Business Times)

Six audio recordings leaked in May 2015 revealed that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are secretly arming the internationally-recognized Tobruk government to aid their fight against Libya’s militias. These audio recordings confirmed that Egyptian and Emirati aid was being sent to Libya. A leaked document in September 2014 also detailed requests from Libyan officials to their Egyptian counterparts for specific arms and munitions. (Sources: Middle East Eye, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera)

In May 2016, Tunisia and Libya announced unspecified coordination against terrorism during a visit by Libya’s Government of National Accord Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to Tunisia. (Source: Agence France-Presse)

On January 5, 2017, the government of Chad announced it had closed its border with Libya due to the threat of “potential terrorist infiltration” and was boosting its military presence in areas bordering Libya. The Chad government said some terrorists were beginning to gather in the south of Libya, putting Chad’s norther border at risk of infiltration. (Source: ENCA.com)

The United States and Libya

The United States has launched numerous operations that targeted key leaders of terror groups in Libya since 2011. In October 2013, U.S. Special Forces captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi, for his alleged role in the 1998 Kenya and Tanzania U.S. embassy bombings. (Source: CBS News)

In June 2014, U.S. Special Forces captured Ahmed Abu Khattala at his residence in Benghazi. Abu Khattala was wanted for his role in the 2012 Benghazi U.S. consulate attack. The U.S. State Department referred to him as a “senior leader” in ASL’s branch in Benghazi. Abu Khattala was also designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 20, 2014. (Sources: Washington Post, U.S. State Department)

In November 2015, the United States launched its first airstrike against a Libyan ISIS target in the port city of Derna.

In June 2015, the Libyan government reported that a U.S. airstrike had killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Mouribitoun terror group, outside of the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya. Belmokhtar and his group claimed responsibility for what is considered one of the worst international hostage crises in decades, a four-day siege on Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant. The attack resulted in the death of 38 hostages, include 37 foreigners. Belmokhtar reportedly survived the 2015 airstrike. (Sources: BBC News, Middle East Eye)

In November 2015, the United States launched its first airstrike against a Libyan ISIS target in the port city of Derna. Abu Nabil, an ISIS leader and spokesman, and several of his associates were killed in the strike.

With the rise of ISIS in Libya, the U.S. has increased their surveillance of the country and has been launching frequent flights of drones and planes from Italy. It has stepped up airstrikes since ISIS in Libya established itself as the most powerful ISIS affiliate outside of Syria and Iraq. Head of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee Congressman Devin Nune explained that “the jihadist threat emanating from Syria and Iraq cannot be defused without addressing the growing anger posed by the terror group’s co-conspirators in Libya.” On February 19, 2016, U.S. forces conducted airstrikes against an ISIS training camp in Sabratha, Libya. Over 40 militants were killed in the strike. (Sources: Guardian, New York Times, Military Times, New York Times)

The United States launched a new round of airstrikes in Operation Odyssey Lightening, targeting ISIS’s stronghold in Sirte on August 1, 2016. President Barack Obama approved the strikes against the coastal city after Libya’s U.N.-backed unity government requested air support in its fight against ISIS. According to Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook, U.S. airstrikes enables the unity government, known as the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), “to make a decisive, strategic advance” against ISIS in Sirte. The U.S. airstrikes continued into the second week of August, to assist the pro-government force’s advance against the terror group, according to the Pentagon.  According to the U.S. Department of State, GNA-aligned forces, in 2016, demonstrated that they could be a “capable partner” for the U.S. in fighting ISIS because they had “cooperated consistently and productively.” (Sources: Wall Street Journal, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Daily Beast, U.S. Department of State)

The airstrikes come at a crucial point in Libya’s efforts to quash ISIS. On May 12, 2016, the Libyan unity government in coordination with pro-government militias launched a major offensive against ISIS in Sirte. By October 2016, pro-government forces captured most the city from ISIS, leaving a few hundred militants backed into a single street in northern Sirte. On December 5, 2016, Libyan officials announced that the pro-government forces officially seized full control of the Sirte from the terror group. The U.S. military officially ended its operations in the city on December 21, 2016. The air campaign consisted of a total of 495 airstrikes throughout Sirte. On January 18, 2017, former U.S. President Barack Obama authorized additional airstrikes on two ISIS training camps approximately 30 miles south of Sirte. The airstrikes killed more than 80 militants. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, BBC News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Deutsche Welle, New York Times, Al Arabiya)

U.S. President Donald Trump launched his administration’s first airstrikes on terrorist targets in Libya on September 24, 2017. “In coordination with Libya’s Government of National Accord and allied forces,” U.S. unmanned military aircraft conducted six “precision” strikes against an ISIS desert camp in Libya, according to U.S. Africa Command, killing 17 ISIS militants. Citing alleged involvement of Libyan-based ISIS operatives in terrorist attacks across Europe, the U.S. military said that ISIS operatives in Libya have been “reconstituting themselves” in desert areas and that it would “track and hunt these terrorists, degrade their capabilities, disrupt their planning and operations by all appropriate, lawful, and proportionate means.” (Source: CNN)

The International Community and Libya

On March 31, 2017, the European Council announced the renewal of sanctions against three persons seen as a threat to political transition in Libya and the implementation of the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA): Agila Saleh, president of the Libyan Council of Deputies in the House of Representatives; Khalifa Ghweil, prime minister and defense minister of the internationally unrecognized General National Congress; and Nuri Abu Sahmain, president of the internationally unrecognized General National Congress. The European Council viewed the three as “obstructing” implementation of the December 2015 agreement from which the GNA was born. (Source: European Union Council)

The Libyan government has called on the international community to lift the U.N. arms embargo enacted in February 2011. The embargo was originally passed to stop arms from flowing to the Gaddafi regime when it cracked down on protestors. In March 2015, the U.N. Security Council voted to sustain the arms embargo, allowing for only case-by-case exceptions. Members of the Security Council were concerned that weapons transferred to Libya could fall into jihadist hands. (Sources: NBC News, Washington Times, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Al Jazeera)

A March 2016 U.N. report found that several companies, individuals, and countries were supplying weapons to factions in Libya in contravention of the international arms embargo. In June 2016, the U.N. Security Council authorized Member States to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya believed to be violating the arms embargo. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, United Nations)

As of January 25, 2017, Russia reportedly had “reactivated” an arms deal worth $2.5 billion with rival military leader in eastern Libya Khalifa Haftar, though Haftar was quoted as saying that Russia had told him weapons could arrive as soon as the U.N. embargo is lifted. (Source: Al Jazeera)

On March 19, 2017, the U.N. Security Council said the Libyan army would have to unify, with a clear chain of command, before the international arms embargo could be lifted. World powers first said, in May 2016, they would consider lifting the embargo. (Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera)

Denying Supplies to Terror Entities

On February 6, 2017, Italian authorities arrested three Italians and a Libyan national, accused of smuggling weapons including surface-to-air missiles and assault rifles into Iran and Libya from 2011 to 2015. The equipment was suspected of being destined for a pro-ISIS group and one of the Italians involved was believed to have been radicalized. (Source: La Repubbica)

The Libyan government has attempted to deny oil revenues and supplies to terrorist groups. Most often, this meant blocking shipments to the extremist-controlled port city of Derna. In January 2015, the Tobruk government bombed a Greek operated oil tanker. The ship failed to heed warnings from the Libyan army to stop its shipment. The attack killed one Romanian and one Greek crewman. The vessel was under lease by the Libyan National Oil Corporation and was transporting oil from the Libyan town of Brega to Derna. The Greek government condemned the act as “unprovoked and cowardly” and vowed to “take all the necessary actions towards Libyan authorities.” (Sources: Reuters, Telegraph)

In May 2015, the Libyan army shelled a Turkish vessel. One Turkish crewmember was killed in the incident, which occurred in international waters. Turkish authorities assert that the ship was bound for Tobruk, while the Libyan officials argue it was approaching Derna. (Sources: Reuters, Telegraph)

International Counter-Extremism

The Libyan government has been in turmoil since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. With rival governments in Tobruk and Tripoli, Libyan authorities are too weak and divided to launch any significant or sustained counter-extremism efforts outside of the country. To the contrary, regional powers continue to consider and launch foreign intervention in Libya. (Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task force, a regional organization that aims to combat terrorist financing and money laundering. According the U.S. Department of State, the Libyan government and financial system “generally lacks the ability to identify and interdict illicit financial flows.” (Sources: MENAFATF, U.S. Department of State)

Public Opinion

Islamic extremist groups generally lack popular support in Libya. Some groups like ASL have been able to win a modicum of support through their social welfare programs. However, public opinion is strongly against more radical groups like ISIS. (Sources: PBS, Daily Star, Business Insider)

U.S. Consulate Attack in 2012

The 2012 Benghazi U.S. consulate attack sparked a series of protests against terrorism. Nine days following the attack, as many as 30,000 people marched on Ansar al-Sharia’s headquarters in Benghazi. Some demonstrators protested the Salafism espoused by militants and chanted “no to militias.” One university student stated, “I don’t want to see armed men wearing Afghani-style clothes stopping me in the street to give me orders, I only want to see people in uniform.” Others offered sympathy to those killed in the attack, holding signs stating, “The ambassador was Libya’s friend” and “Libya lost a friend.”

More than 3,000 supporters of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB) later staged a counter-protest in the same area.

(Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Foreign Policy)

Opposition to ISIS

Libya lacks the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that ISIS has exploited in Iraq and Syria. Libya is nearly entirely Sunni and divisions in the country are far more tribal than religious. Consequently, ISIS in Libya is unable to portray themselves as defenders of Sunni Islam in the face of Shiite oppression, and has had trouble integrating into the tribal system. ISIS is most popular in formerly pro-regime areas, including Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, which have largely been the “losers” in post-revolution Libya.

In March 2015, ISIS beheaded three activists in Derna after they published an anti-ISIS video on Facebook. ISIS also publicly crucified three brothers of a prominent local family. One of the brothers was accused of supporting the Libyan government. An anti-ISIS activist in Derna stated, “The people try to do something inside [the city] but the killings that happen inside Derna, without anyone taking responsibility to stop it, prevent the people of Derna from coming out of their fears and asking for their freedom.”

Libya is nearly entirely Sunni and divisions in the country are far more tribal than religious.

According to a June 2015 Foreign Policy piece, it is difficult to quantify the unpopularity of ISIS policies. However, the report noted many residents of Derna decided to “vote with their feet” and leave the city “as penniless refugees rather than submit to Islamic State rule.” A particularly compelling factor in the decision to flee ISIS-controlled areas is fear of the group’s practice of taking child brides.

A poll conducted by the Center for Strategic International Studies in 2015 found that 72 percent of Libyans believe ISIS are terrorists and 54 percent of Libyans support the international coalition against the group. The same poll revealed that the majority of Libyans think the Nusra Front and al-Qaeda are also terrorist movements.

The spread of ISIS in Libya has also caused growing concern from some of its neighboring countries. Senegalese Colonel Guirane Ndiaye said in March 2016, “ISIS is spreading even to [Senegal]. If we do not have a multinational effort, ISIS will spread even more.”

(Source: Newsweek, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, PBS, Daily Star, Business Insider , Center for Strategic International Studies, New York Times)

Demonstrations in Support of Counterterrorism Efforts

In late May 2014, just days after General Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Dignity in an effort to combat Islamist militants, thousands of protesters took to the streets to express their support for the military campaign. The demonstrations, which took place in Tripoli and Benghazi, were dubbed “Friday of Dignity.” Protestors also called for the creation of a national army and police force to replace the hundreds of militias across the country. (Source: Washington Post)