ISIS Takes Control of Libyan CityNovember 19, 2014 in Libya
19 November– Fighters loyal to the extremist group ISIS have taken control of Derna, Libya. The city, with a population of nearly 100,000, rests near the Egyptian border and approximately 200 miles from the EU border with Greece.
The Libyan wing of ISIS refers to itself as the “Barqa” provincial division of the Islamic State. Sources believe that there are approximately 800 ISIS affiliates in the region, operating from six camps and a facility in the Green Mountains. It is believed that at least 300 among them are Libyan fighters who left for Syria and formed part of the al-Battar Brigade which fought in Deir Ezzor, Syria and Mosul, Iraq. The group is believed to be operating a training facility in the Green Mountains for extremists in North Africa. Evidence suggests that fighters have also expanded their presence westward along the Libyan coast. Chapters are known to exist in al Bayda, Benghazi, Sirte, al-Khums and Tripoli.
ISIS supporters have taken advantage of the sustained chaos in Libya that has been unchecked since the 2011 removal of Moammar Gadhafi. Currently, two governments operate in the country and battles regularly erupt between extremist groups and Libyan security forces throughout the nation.
The Barqa branch of ISIS has administrative control over Derna, including controlling the courts, education, and the local radio. In September, ISIS leader Abu Bakar al Baghdadi deployed senior aide Abu Nabil al Anbari to Derna to orchestrate the takeover. In Libya, Anbari enlisted the help of Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi, a Saudi imam who is one of Derna’s top religious judges. In early November a group called “Mujahideen of Libya” swore allegiance to Baghdadi, and intend to operate across the nation. Baghdadi called upon supporters to join the “newest administrative region of the Islamic caliphate.” An audio message released by the group last week threatened the “the secularists and parliamentarians and their pillars from the police and army,” adding, “We have prepared for you from the most bitter of cups, and the worst of deaths.”
The Derna group has already been believed to be active in the region. Last week, the bodies of three known anti-ISIS activists were found beheaded in the region, and the group is suspected of a suicide bombing in Tobruk, where the internationally recognised Libyan government has made its temporary home. The bombing killed one and wounded 14. It is believed that the ISIS supporters also conducted a car bombing near Labraq Air Force base in Al-Bayda, killing four. An ISIS-linked Twitter account indicates that the Tripoli chapter of ISIS supporters was responsible for car bomb attacks last week near the Egyptian and UAE embassies.
Analysts believe ISIS control in Derna could be viable in the short term. Smuggling and trafficking routes known to be operational in Libya could provide them with the ability to fund themselves. Derna, has been known to be a stronghold for Islamic extremism. It is unlikely that residents will push back against ISIS without support, particularly as tribal members in the region have affiliated themselves with the group.
However Libyan security forces are battling the stronghold. Last week, Libya’s air force conducted bombings over ISIS held zones in Derna, striking five positions, including a command centre and training camp. It is believed that six were killed and 20 injured. It is likely that regional forces will take action in limiting the threat from permeating their borders.