The so-called Islamic State (IS) group moved into Libya in 2014, amidst the chaos that followed the ouster of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. On 1 August 2016, at the request of Libya’s unity government, United States warplanes carried out their first air strikes on positions in the IS bastion of Sirte.
Below are key dates of IS’ presence in Libya:
First Jihadist Attacks
- 19 November 2014 – The US says that it is “concerned” by reports that radical extremists with avowed ties to IS are destabilizing eastern Libya, having already seized vast areas of territory in Iraq and Syria.
- 27 December 2014 – IS claims responsibility for a car bombing outside the diplomatic security building in Tripoli. The attack causes no casualties.
- 27 January 2015 – IS claims responsibility for an attack on Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia Hotel, in which nine people, including five foreigners, are killed.
Since January 2015, IS has carried out a number of suicide attacks, including the February 2015 attack in Al-Qoba, near the eastern town of Derna, which killed 44 people; and the January 2016 attack that targeted a police school in Zliten, east of Tripoli, which killed more than 50 people.
IS Videos of Killings
- 15 February 2015 – IS releases a video depicting the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, in which all but one was Egyptian. The militant group states that the act was filmed in January. Egypt carried out air strikes on IS in its then stronghold of Derna.
- 19 April 2015 – A new video shows the execution-style killing of 28 Christians originally from Ethiopia.
IS Seizes Sirte
- 9 June 2015 – IS announces that it has captured Sirte, which is located east of Tripoli. The city is the hometown of Kadhafi.
- 12 July 2015 – After weeks of fierce fighting with Derna’s Mujahedeen Council, IS finally acknowledges that it has been pushed out of the town.
First US Strikes
- 13 November 2015 – The US bombs IS leaders in Libya for the first time, stating that it killed Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi. Libyan officials identify him as the IS chief in Derna.
- 19 February 2016 – A US air strike on a jihadist training camp near Sabratha, which is located west of Tripoli, kills about fifty people.
- 24 February 2016 – Some 200 jihadists briefly occupy central Sabratha before being ousted by militias.
Offensive on Sirte
- 30 March 2016 – Despite the hostility of rival authorities, the head of Libya’s UN-backed unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj, arrives in Tripoli.
- 12 May 2016 – A vast offensive to recapture Sirte is launched by forces loyal to the unity government.
- 4 June 2016 – Unity government forces say that they have retaken a jihadist air base located south of Sirte.
- 9 June 2016 – Government forces enter the centre of Sirte and besiege the jihadists.
- 23 July 2016 – Loyalist forces say that they have seized a building used by IS to manufacture explosives.
- 1 August 2016 – Sarraj confirms that the US has carried out airstrikes on IS positions in Sirte for the first time. He indicates that the move was at the request of the unity government. A US senior administration official disclosed that American troops will not take part in any ground operations in support of the government.
On 30 March 2016, Libya’s prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj sailed into the capital Tripoli under naval escort and set up the headquarters of his country’s unity government. Now after three months in office, many are asking how has the newly formed Government of National Accord (GNA) fared in tackling the North African country’s ongoing crisis and what more needs to be done to stabilize Libya.
The GNA, which is the result of a UN-brokered power-sharing deal that was reached in December 2015, continues to face a fearsome set of economic, political and military challenges. While its allied militias have made major advances against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in its stronghold of Sirte, success there would just be the start. The country’s economy, which was hard-hit in the wake of the 2011 uprising, continues to struggle amidst power cuts and a cash crisis at the country’s banks. Furthermore, a rival government based in the eastern city of Tobruk has refused to cede power until the country’s elected parliament passes a repeatedly delayed vote of confidence. Meanwhile neither administration can rein in militias that have fought for control of the country since the 2011 fall of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
So what has the GNA achieved?
Within days of its arrival in Tripoli, Sarraj’s government had won the loyalty of the main economic institutions, cities and armed groups based in western Libya. Without waiting for a vote of confidence from Tobruk, the GNA took control of key government ministries in Tripoli, with Sarraj managing to secure a rapprochement between rival central banks and national oil companies. According to analysts, the prime minister-designate has also met with figures from both sides of the country and has continued to stress the need for unity. However the GNA’s biggest achievement to date has been its success in commanding an assault on IS in Sirte, which is located 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the capital Tripoli. Since 12 May, pro-government forces have cleared IS from 280 kilometres (175 miles) of coastline and surrounded the jihadists inside the city.
In political terms, the GNA’s main challenge continues to be securing a rapprochement with the east. Sources however have disclosed that Easterners are wary of the GNA’s reliance on militias. Furthermore, kidnappings for ransom are on the rise, as are the prices of basic goods. Power cuts are common, long and unpredictable and they sometimes affect the water supplies. Furthermore, foreign airlines are avoiding the country and Libyans have few options to fly out. Also, despite a string of foreign delegations, no foreign embassy is currently present in the capital.
What after IS?
In order to govern effectively, Sarraj will need a vote of confidence from the House of Representatives in Tobruk. The continued fight against IS delays any rapprochement between the East and the West, and is inevitable unless a political solution is reached.
On 9 June, unity government force surrounded the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s Libyan bastion Sirte, where clashes have erupted as the Unity Government attempts to oust the militant group. The jihadist group, which moved into the North African country in 2014 amidst chaos that followed the ouster of Moamer Kadhafi, has become yet another player in the lawless country, where rival authorities and militas are battling for control of territory and major oil reserves.
- 19 November – The United States indicates that it is “concerned” by reports that radical extrmeists with avowed ties to IS are destabilizing eastern Libya, after having already seized vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. News reports emerge indicated that the eastern coastal city of Derna is emerging as an IS stronghold.
- 27 December – A car bomb explodes outside the diplomatic security building in the capital city Tripoli. The attack, which is claimed by IS, causes no casualties.
- 27 January – IS claims responsibility for an attack on Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia Hotel that kills nine people.
- 15 February – IS releases a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, all but one Egyptians, that the jihadist say they filmed in January. Egypt carries out air strikes on IS in Derna
- 20 February – IS claims responsibility for suicide car bombings in Al-Qoba, which is located near Derna. Those attacks kill 44 people, with IS stating that the attacks are to avenge losses in the air strikes.
- 19 April – A new video depicts the execution-style killing of 28 Christians originally from Ethiopia.
- 9 June – IS announces that it has captured the city of Sirte, which is located east of Tripoli.
- 12 July – The group acknowledges that it has been pushed out of Derna after weeks of fierce fighting with members of the town’s Mujahedeen Council.
- 13 November – The US bombs IS leaders in Libya for the first time and states that it has killed Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi. Libyan officials later identify him as the head of IS in Derna.
- 7 January – A suicide truck bombing at a police school in Zliten, east of Tripoli, kills more than fifty people in what is the worst attack to take place in Libya since the 2011 revolution. IS claims responsibility for the attack.
- 5 February – US officials disclose that the number of jihadists has almost doubled in Libya to about 5,000.
- 19 February – A US air strike on a jihadist training camp located near Sabratha, west of Tripoli, kills about fifty people.
- 24 February – Some 200 jihadists briefly occupy the centre of Sabratha, however they are later ousted by militas.
- 30 March – The head of Libya’s United Nations-backed unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj, arrives at a naval base in Tripoli, despite the hostility of rival authorities.
- 31 May – UN special envoy Martin Kobler calls on all of Libya’s armed groups to untie against IS.
- 4 June – Unity government forces say that they have retaken a jihadist air base, Al-Gordabyia, which is located south of Sirte.
- 5 June – Sarraj rules out an international military intervention on the ground.
- 9 June – Unity government forces enter the centre of Sirte where clashes continue with IS.
Tunisia’s foreign minister confirmed Friday that ten Tunisian diplomats, seized by Libyan gunmen linked to the Tripoli government, have been released and have flown home. The foreign minister has denied that the diplomats had been traded for a militia leader and announced that Tunisia is closing its consulate in Tripoli because of the Libyan authorities’ inability to ensure diplomats’ security.
On 12 June, the Libyan Dawn militia stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli and seized the diplomats. Mokhtar Chaouachi, a spokesman for the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, disclosed at the time that it remained unclear whether the attackers were holding the hostages on site or had taken them elsewhere, adding that he did not know whether the attackers had opened fire or had made any demands in exchange for the captives. On Saturday, the interior minister for Libya’s self-declared government indicated that ten Tunisan counsellor staff kidnapped in the country’s capital city are in good condition and that contact has been made with their captors. According to Interior Minister Mohamed Shaiteer, “I am in contact with the group who abducted the Tunisian staff and hopefully the staff will be freed soon.”
Early last week, a Libyan official and Tunisian source reported that three of the ten Tunisian consular staff had been freed, adding that negotiations over the remaining hostages were continuing. Speaking to reporters, Faraj Swahili, a Libyan diplomat police official, disclosed “three diplomats have been freed…after they were kidnapped in the capital Tripoli,” adding “the other seven diplomats will be released when the Libyan detainee in Tunis, Walid Kalib, is released by Tunisian authorities.” Last month, Tunisian authorities arrested Kalib, who is a member of Libya Dawn. A Tunisian court has refused to release Kalib, who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.
4 September, 2014: On Sunday, the Libyan government announced that it no longer had control of Tripoli. A government issued statement read, “Ministry and state offices in Tripoli have been occupied by armed militias who are preventing government workers from entering and are threatening their superiors.” Fajr Libya has called on the outgoing government– the Islamist dominated General National Congress (GNC) – to resume operations.
The announcement comes nearly two weeks after Fajr Libya (Dawn of Libya), an Islamist militia group from Misrata, announced the capture of Tripoli International Airport after over a month of fighting. Prior to the capture, the airport, and the city of Tripoli were under the control of Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council, a pro-government group and one of the largest and most disciplined militia groups in Libya. Fajr Libya’s capture of Tripoli effectively gave the group control of the seat of the nation, which has had serious implications for Libya’s faltering government.
The fighting between Zintan and Fajr Libya, which began in July, has caused significant damage to Tripoli airport and a number of aircraft. The airport has been closed since mid-July. Prior to the fighting at the airport, the Libyan Airlines fleet included seven Airbus 320s, one Airbus 330, two French ATR-42 turboprop aircraft, and four Bombardier CJR-900s. Afriqiyah Airways held three Airbus 319s, seven Airbus 320s, two Airbus 330s, and one Airbus 340.
The oil-rich nation is at risk of becoming a failed state as competing militias and terrorist groups are able to take advantage of the weakened political and security infrastructures. The fighting has caused a number of diplomats, NGOs and foreign nationals to evacuate Libya, often through its borders with Tunisia and Egypt.
Neighbouring countries fear that Libya could become a safe haven for terrorist organisations. Recent airstrikes have been conducted against Fajr Libya, and have been attributed to a joint operation between Egyptian and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has not commented on the strikes, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi has vehemently denied the claims but has suggested that suggested that military action is being considered. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the US would be delivering Apache attack helicopters to Egypt. The U.S. is taking a more conservative role in the country, but it is not known whether the helicopters would be used on objectives in Libya.
Unconfirmed rumours have gained traction that an Islamist militia group in Libya has reportedly taken control of eleven commercial jetliners in Tripoli. The report was said to have been initially issued by a Moroccan military expert named Abderrahmane Mekkaoui, who reported the airline theft on 21 August. In the report, Mekkaoui states that “credible intelligence” indicated the Masked Brigade “is plotting to use the planes in attacks on a Maghreb state” on the 9/11 anniversary. Rumours of the stolen plains are gaining traction in social media, however neither the US State Department nor any other government has confirmed the reports of the stolen jetliners.