30 April— Last week, the European Union agreed to triple the funding dedicated to patrolling the Mediterranean for illegal migrant ships. The EU has also doubled the emergency aid to front-line member states Italy, Greece and Malta, which deal with a massive influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean. The new allocation of 50 million euros per year will be dedicated to reception centres for migrants, medical aid, or additional staff dealing with the influx. It is part of an overall EU fund for migration and asylum issues.
The EU also will send more naval ships from its member states to the region stem the growing migration crisis that has left countless dead as they seek to reach Europe from Africa. The governments also agreed to develop plans to combat the smuggling rings that have made a lucrative trade of bringing people to Europe. The UK offered to send a warship to patrol between Sicily and the Libyan coast. Germany, France, Ireland and other nations have offered ships as well.
EU leaders said the Frontex mission— which secures the external borders of the union, including from illegal immigration, human trafficking and terrorist infiltration— would now have the authority to conduct rescue missions in international waters.
The decision was made days after one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the sea. Last Sunday, a ship carrying 550 people capsized. The Italian Coast guard recovered 9 bodies and 144 survivors. Nearly 400 people reportedly remain missing. If this number is confirmed, it will be the single worst refugee catastrophe in history. Yet despite the dangerous incident, the next day, ships from the EU’s Triton rescue programme clashed with people smugglers over the rescue of 250 migrants 110 kilometres off Libya. The smugglers reportedly fired on the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Tyr in their attempt to recover the empty wooden boat from which the migrants had been rescued. An Italian tugboat was trying to take the wooden boat in tow when the smugglers raced in on a speedboat and sped away with the empty migrant boat.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that since the start of the year and 21 April, approximately 1,750 have perished in their attempts to illegally migrate to Europe over the Mediterranean. In the same period in 2014, that number was 56. Joel Millman, a spokesman for the IOM, says that smugglers appear to be loading each boat more migrants, and are operating without fear of punishment.
Smuggling has become increasingly lucrative, and in Libya, which is divided by opposing governments and spiralling ever deeper into chaos, the market is thriving. One anonymous smuggler says, “A fishing boat worth 40,000 dinar, (£20,000) can be sold for smuggling for £100,000. It’s an unimaginable amount of money. The boats are brought in from Egypt, they’re bad quality and you load it with 90 or 100 people, and some of them get there and others will die.” The operations are run through a complex criminal and tribal network; the UN estimates that smuggling is worth over £100m a year. Despite the dangers, new migrants–“cargo”– arrives daily.
The migrants often originate in sub-Saharan Africa. They pay repeatedly to be taken to the next stage of migration. The migrants are often hidden in cargo trucks and not given food or water for days. In the dessert the smugglers use hidden trails, and will sometimes abandon the migrants in the middle of the desert, telling them, “follow these power lines and eventually, you’ll reach a city”. Many die en-route.
For those that do make it, many aim for Libya’s coastal waters. The anonymous smuggler reported that the areas of Sabratha and Zuwarah, west of Tripoli near the Tunisian border, are under the control of smugglers. They use the official sea ports for smuggling immigrants, and load people from the port docks. He says he tells each migrant the risk before they embark. If they pay more, they are allowed onto a better quality boat. They are offered discounts if they choose to get on an overcrowded or less seaworthy boat.
EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini was tasked to ask the United Nations for permission to use air and naval power to destroy smugglers’ boats along the Libyan coast before they can use them. Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, disagrees with plans to mount military strikes against the boats. He argues that while smugglers use the boats to conduct criminal activity, targeting them could unintentionally harm Libyan fishermen, further weakening Libya’s economy. Although Ban has vocalised his opinion, he cannot prevent the UN Security Council from approving the strikes.
In Libya, the groups controlling Tripoli have said they will confront any EU operation that seeks to attack sites used by people smugglers. Muhammed el-Ghirani, Foreign Minister of the unrecognised Tripoli-based government, says his group has repeatedly offered to help deal with migrants, but their proposals had been rebuffed. International governments recognise only the Tobruq based government, led by Libyan President Abdullah al-Thani. It is so far unclear what the Tobruq government can do in a region that is controlled by opposing forces. It is likely that stemming the flow of migrants is incumbent upon finding a peaceful solution to Libya’s political chaos.
9 March – In the latest series of “tit-for-tat” strikes, warplanes from Libya’s internationally recognized government (based in Tobruk) attacked the last functioning airport in Tripoli, which is held by the rival administration. The two opposing governments have been battling for control of the nation and its vast oil resources, causing spiralling violence in the north of the country.
“Warplanes conducted air strikes this morning on Mitiga airport but there was no damage,” airport spokesman Abdulsalam Buamoud said. “Flights were suspended for only an hour … but now the airport is working normally.”
Spokesman for the Tobruk-led military, Mohamed al-Hejazi, the airport was targeted because it is “outside state legitimacy”, adding that weapons and fighters which were heading to western Libya come through the Tripoli airport. Western Libya has become a sort of base for Islamist militants who have exploited the chaos between the governments.
Haftar Sworn In:
The attack coincided with the swearing-in of Khalifa Haftar as army commander for the recognized government. Haftar has been vocally opposed to the Tripoli based government since February 2014 and attempted to seize the parliament building and halt their activities. The Tripoli government called his actions an attempt at a coup. Shortly thereafter, Haftar began “Operation Dignity”, a self-declared war against Islamist militants in Benghazi which gained great support from military forces and civil society. However Haftar has also been met with opposition from those who criticise his attacks on civilian air and sea ports. Today, Libya’s internationally recognised President Abdullah al-Thani and his parliament have formally allied with Haftar. The Tripoli-based rival government has denounced Haftar as “war criminal.”
Haftar’s appointment as army commander will complicate mediation efforts by the United Nations which began last week in Morocco. The UN has been trying to persuade both sides to form a national government and said on Saturday that progress had been made at talks in Morocco. Delegates will return this week for more negotiations after consultations at home, but both factions face internal divisions over the negotiations.
ISIS attacks oil fields:
Meanwhile, in the midst of the government battles, the Tobruk government’s military spokesman, Ahmed al-Mesmari, says that militants affiliated with the terrorist group Islamic State affiliate beheaded eight guards after an assault on al-Ghani oil field last week, during which nine foreigners were abducted. Al-Mesmari did not elaborate on how the army knows about the beheadings but the force serving as oil guards is closely allied to the Tobruk military. Authorities in the Philippines and Austria confirmed that nine of their citizens were abducted during the attack, however the beheadings have not been confirmed.
The attack was part of a string of militant strikes targeting oil fields in the nation. Libya declared a force majeure related to 11 oil fields in the centre of country after a string of attacks against the facilities by ISIS. In a statement posted on its website, state-owned National Oil Company (NOC) said it was no longer able to ensure security in the 11 fields. By declaring force majeure, the nation can guarantee legal protections from claims against any future disruptions. Libya is pumping about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day, three times less than its peak output. The Dahra oil field, about 310 miles southeast of Tripoli, was attacked late on Tuesday, hours after two other oil facilities were targeted by the militants. Colonel Hakim Maazab, a commander of the oil guards in the area said his men had regained control of the field late on Wednesday. Mabruk and Bahi oil fields in central Libya that were stormed for a second time by unknown gunmen on Monday and Tuesday, after experiencing similar attacks in February. Mabruk once produced 30,000 to 40,000 barrels a day and is operated by a Libyan joint venture with French oil firm Total SA. It was occupied again overnight on Tuesday by the militants, who claim to represent Islamic State and killed nine guards there last month. Bahi and Dahra are operated by a partnership with U.S. oil companies Marathon Oil Corp., Hess Corp. and ConocoPhillips. Colonel Maazab said on Wednesday that the gunmen had withdrawn from Mabruk after inflicting heavy damage on the facilities, destroying oil tanks and the control room. “Daesh (Arabic slur for ISIS) blew up a lot of equipment,” he said.
18 February– Egyptian and Libyan fighter jets conducted two waves of attacks in Derna, Libya, hours after ISIS militants released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians. The attacks targeted ISIS militant camps, training sites and weapons storage facilities.
The Coptic Christians, who were seeking work in Libya, were abducted in two separate incidents in the coastal town of Sirte. The first kidnapping occurred in late December, when the group was abducted at a fake checkpoint while attempting to leave the city. Days later in early January, ISIS militants raided a residential compound in Sirte. They separated Christians from Muslims before handcuffing their captives and taking them away. The hostages were featured in the latest edition of Dabiq, the English-language propaganda magazine created by ISIS. In the issue released last week, photos show the male hostages being marched along the coastline as their captors brandish knives.
Thirteen of the victims were from the same Egyptian village, al-Our, in the largely Coptic governorate of Minya. The Egyptian government has declared seven days of national mourning. In a televised address, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi described ISIS as “inhuman criminal killers”, adding, “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.” Later in the day, Sisi visited St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo to offer his condolences to Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
A statement released by the Egyptian military says, “And let those near and far know that the Egyptians have a shield that protects and preserves the security of the country, and a sword that eradicates terrorism.”
Mohamed Azazza, spokesman for Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said that eight airstrikes had been conducted in Derna. He added, “The plan is to target all IS locations in the country wherever they are.” Libyan air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi said the Egyptian strikes had been co-ordinated with Mr Thinni’s government, and that Libyan planes had also carried out strikes. He reported that between 40 and 50 people had been killed in the first wave of strikes.
The murder of the Egyptian Copts signals that ISIS has intentions to strengthen their impact in Libya. ISIS has thrived in under-governed regions, such Syria, which is engaged in a protracted civil war, and Iraq, which under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was divided politically along sectarian lines. The group’s modus operandi has thus far been to establish bases in regions where the sense of nationalism and political power is fractured. The same is true of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where long ignored grievances led to the most violent aftermath of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. ISIS supporters declared a branch in Egypt in November.
Underlining this strategy, ISIS fighters have sought greater ground in Libya, which has been wracked with strife since their 2011 uprising, which saw the death of Dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libya is now in the midst of a civil war creating a vacuum in which ISIS has been able to gain foothold. ISIS has a strong presence in Derna, and earlier this month they claimed to have captured the Libyan town of Nawfaliyah. Photos have emerged of a military-style parade in the town’s streets. In Sirte, ISIS fighters also claimed to have seized several key buildings, including radio and television stations and a passport office. Independent reports confirm that the group has been operating in and around Sirte.
In this light, it is likely that Egypt’s rapid military action is in part designed to strengthen the core of Egyptian nationalism and to send a message to the extremist group that they will not be tolerated by a united society in Egypt. Sisi may even adapt pages from Nasser’s playbook and encourage a call Pan-Arabic or Pan-Islamic unity. In doing so, he may simultaneously be encouraging nationalism in the long neglected Sinai Peninsula.
Sisi has also called for a UN resolution which would allow international forces to intervene in Libya. On French radio station Europe1, he said, “We abandoned the Libyan people as prisoners to extremist militias,” and called for weapons to be made available to Libya’s internationally recognised government, which fled to Tobruk after rival militias seized power in the capital.
Asked if he would order Egypt’s air force to strike again, he said: “We need to do it again, all of us together.” On Monday, Egypt signed a £3.8 billion defence deal with France, which includes the purchase of 24 advanced fighter jets. In addition to escalating the anti-terrorism fight in Sinai, it is likely that Egypt and Libya will continue to conduct joint strategic airstrikes in ISIS held territories in Libya. Very early and unconfirmed reports suggest that Italy may also consider mobilising troops against ISIS. Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano expressed the growing alarm and urged NATO to intervene. “ISIS is at the door,” he said. “There is no time to waste.”
4 February– Gunmen stormed a remote Libyan oil field, and killing twelve people on Tuesday. The extremists attacked the al-Mabrook oil field, nearly 105 miles south of Sirte. Among those killed were eight Libyans, two Filipino and two Ghanaian nationals. The Philippines Foreign Ministry said three Filipinos were among seven foreign nationals who had reportedly been kidnapped in the assault, however conflicting reports suggest that there have been no abductions.
Abdelhakim Maazab, commander of a security force in charge of protecting the oilfield said that most of the victims were “beheaded or killed by gunfire,” but does not report any kidnappings. A French diplomatic source in Paris and another Libyan official said Islamic State militants were behind the attack. In recent months, ISIS has made gains in Libya and has a stronghold in Derna. The group has reportedly set up training camps in the country’s eastern region, taking advantage of the deteriorating security situation in Libya.
France’s Total has a stake in the site, which is currently off-line, but it is contracted to a Libyan company. The Filipinos worked for an Italian company. Al-Mabrook closed following clashes which shut Es Sider in December. It used to pump 40,000 barrels a day. Total said it had already withdrawn staff from the site in 2013 and had no personnel onshore since July 2014. It was not clear whether Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp had employed expatriate staff at the field. Ali al-Hassi, spokesman for an oil guard force, blamed Islamists for the attack. “The field is outside of our control,” he said. “Islamic State is controlling it.”
The attack on the oil field comes a week after a separate attack targeting the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. The hotel is frequented by government officials and foreign diplomats. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has held functions in the hotel. Militants claiming links to Islamic State took responsibility for the deadly attack on the luxury hotel. However, officials of the government in Tripoli denied the claim, blaming “Gaddafi loyalists” for the assault.
Libya’s turmoil has deepened as two rival governments controlling different areas, compete for primacy, each with their own armies. Rival armed factions have also been fighting for almost two months for control of Libya’s biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, on the Mediterranean coast.
The recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni and elected parliament has had to work out of an eastern rump state since a faction called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August, setting up its own administration and reinstating the old assembly. Libya’s neighbours in the region have held meetings to discuss the spread of militants through their borders. The UN is working diligently to develop a peace agreement between the opposing governments, however progress has stalled as the Tripoli government has been unwilling to hold the meeting in Geneva, insisting it be held inside Libya. Talks are expected to resume in coming days.
29 January- Militants have attacked a hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli, killing at least nine people including five foreigners, officials say. The Corinthia Hotel is often used by foreign diplomats, government officials and foreign companies. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has hosted several workshops at the hotel. Several gunmen stormed the Corinthia Hotel and opened fire in the reception area; a car bomb also exploded nearby. Unconfirmed reports say some of the assailants have blown themselves up. The officials say the dead include one US and one French citizen. The US state department has confirmed the death of a US citizen, US Marine Corp veteran David Berry. The French national is reported to have been working for Libya’s Buraq Air. There are conflicting reports as to the total number of attackers.
A Twitter account linked to ISIS said the group had carried out the attack in revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Liby, a Libyan fighter who was suspected of involvement in the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. As chaos erupts in Libya, officials in Geneva are rushing to put together a peace plan before ISIS can gain a foothold in the country. The attack on the hotel is the latest sign of ISIS flexing its muscles in a country that has become a failed state, and which could reach levels of chaos currently seen in Syria.
Libya has seen continual fighting since the death of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Beginning as small, localised skirmishes, the fighting turned into civil war last summer after national elections ushered in a moderate government, the House of Representatives, which heavily defeated Islamist parties and replaced the Islamist leaning General National Convention. Islamists and their allies, particularly tribal militias, reacted to the defeat by declaring parliament void, forming the Libya Dawn militia alliance and seizing Tripoli. The newly elected parliament fled and moved its administrative seat to Tobruk, in eastern Libya. The two sides, based at opposite ends of the country, have been at war ever since, resulting in thousands of deaths, towns wrecked and more than 400,000 of Libya’s six million population displaced.
In the midst of the chaos, ISIS has taken advantage and formed units across all three of Libya’s provinces. They have declared the eastern coastal town of Derna an Islamic caliphate, with parades of fighters waving black flags and ritual beheadings. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of 14 soldiers killed as they slept near the south-western town of Sebha, and earlier this month for the execution of two kidnapped Tunisian journalists, which is as yet unconfirmed. Earlier this month ISIS units attacked the living quarters of Egyptian guest workers in Sirte, separating Christians from Muslims and then taking the Christians away. ISIS later posted pictures of the kidnapped men on social media.
There are fears that the foothold in ISIS presence a threat to Europe, particularly in light of Libya’s proximity. At the Geneva talks, UN special envoy Bernardino Leon is warning that the window to agree a peace deal is closing. “Libya’s running out of time. How much time will Libya have, it’s difficult to say but the general impression is that the country is very close to total chaos.”
The UN is struggling to develop a deal, in large part because only one of the warring parties has turned up for the peace talks. Libya Dawn is refusing to take part. The group pulled out of the discussions after forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government seized the Benghazi branch of the central bank last week. Tobruk in turn said that, as the internationally recognised government, it is entitled to control its own central bank, further poisoning relations between the two sides. Because the Tobruk-based government is internationally recognised, it ostensibly controls oil revenues, and is reluctant to agree to a ceasefire while its expanding army is making gains on the battlefield.
In Benghazi, army units have bottled up Ansar al Sharia, a militant group, in the port area. Meanwhile the air force, loyal to Tobruk, last month repulsed a Libya Dawn offensive aimed at capturing Es Sider, the largest oil port.
Libya is quickly running out of money. The central bank, a neutral institution, pays soldiers on both sides of the conflict, and its reserves are running low, unable to be replenished as oil production has slowed considerably due to the fighting. The population is almost wholly dependent on cash from foreign reserves, and these are starting to run dry.
In the absence of a peace agreement and with depletion of resources, ISIS may become the beneficiary of the anarchy in the failed state, unless at least temporary terms between the two governments can be reached in haste.