Speaking at a meeting in London, Libya’s former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issued an alarming message that Libya could become “the next crucible of global terrorism.” He strongly urged Libya’s allies to assist the country from falling into collapse. Zeidan stated, “Libya could be a base for al-Qaeda for any operation to Italy, to Britain, to France, to Spain, to Morocco, to everywhere. Weapons are everywhere, ammunition is everywhere.” Zeidan urged Britain to increase its support to help to train Libyan security forces and to assist with economic and political reforms.
Libya’s engagement in the Arab Spring of 2011 took the form of a civil war which ultimately saw the death of Dictator Muammar Gadhafi and the end of his regime. However, despite the end of autocratic rule, the nation has remained in turmoil. Weaponry looted from the regime, valued in the millions of dollars, remains prolific on the black market and in the hands of tribal militias and Islamic extremist groups. Factions have seized Libya’s oil assets and land in the eastern part of the nation, threatening to form an autonomous nation. The Libyan government had been reluctant to launch offensives against the militias and extremist groups for fear that those same groups would exploit the added chaos.
Zeidan’s warning is dire: Libya has become ungovernable, and requires a UN peacekeeping force to prevent al-Qaeda or inspired derivatives from gaining a stronghold in the region. The northern part of the nation extends into the Mediterranean Sea, making it a gateway for illegal immigrants or dangerous individuals to access Europe.
The former prime minister added that Libya’s General National Congress is no longer legitimate, and feels that and new elections should be held to bring in a new interim authority. However, he remains sympathetic to the role he left: “Do you think it is a privilege to be prime minister of Libya at this time? It is some kind of suffering. What it has cost me in terms of my nerves and my health over these 15 months, it was unbelievable.
Zeidan served as prime minister for 15 months, during which he was kidnapped and held by a rebel faction. In March, he was ousted from Libya’s parliament in a vote of no confidence following escalating chaos culminating the government’s inability to prevent rebels in the east from attempting to illegally export Libyan oil. Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, approximately 47 billion barrels. Currently, several ports in the east are in the hands of rebel factions.
Zeidan has since fled to Germany, where he had lived previously while in opposition against Gadhafi. However he is preparing to return to Libya in the near future, with intentions to restore stability to his nation.
Simultaneously, the Libyan government has also called for help and declared a “War on Terror”. A statement released on 25 March by the Council of Ministers states, “Libya’s interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism […] the government confirms that it wants this war on terror to start as soon as possible.”
The statement continues, “The nation is now confronting terrorist groups which requires making security and military resources available to fight such epidemic and bring peace and security to our cities […] the interim government asks the world community, especially the United Nations to provide the needed support in order to eradicate terrorism from Libyan cities.
The statement marks the first time in Libyan history that the government has called for outside help to fight terrorists on Libyan soil. The call for help comes after a wave of bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte. In Benghazi, killings or injuries through shooting or car bombs, have occurred on a near daily basis. Opposition to the declaration of war on terrorism has already emerged, particularly amongst Islamist supporters in the nation, who feel they will be targeted for their political leanings.
On 28 March, Tarek Mitri, Chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) visited Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, to officially request help. Mitri spoke with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Ennahda Party head Rachid Ghannouchi. Reportedly, Mitri asked the Tunisian government, which is on the road to recovery following their 2010 uprising, to share experiences regarding democratic transition and national dialogue.
Echoing the distress, a video has been released of Saddi Gadhafi, son of the former dictator. Saadi, who fled to Niger during the revolution, was extradited to Libya earlier this year. He is accused of trying to suppress the uprising against his father’s rule.
In the video, he says, “I apologise to the Libyan people, and I apologise to the dear brothers in the Libyan government for all the harm I’ve caused and for disturbing the security and stability of Libya. I admit that these things were wrong, and we should not have perpetrated these acts.” He also called on “those who carry weapons to hand over their weapons”. Saadi’s brother, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, remains in the hands of rebels in Zintan, where he was captured in November 2011.
There is no official word yet from the UK or the UN regarding support for action in Libya.
Tripoli International Airport suspended operations today after two rockets exploded on the main runway, causing minor damage. No casualties have been reported. The blasts occurred at 5 am local time, before the airport had begun their inbound or outbound traffic services.
The cause of the rocket fire was unknown and no group has taken responsibility, however since the civil war that resulted in the death of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya’s security has considerably deteriorated. Several of the armed militias formed during the civil war have remained in place. Some militias have become members of Libya’s security forces; others have remained to protect their own aims or territories, despite the government’s attempts to disband them. Often, these militia groups clash with one another, resulting in violence and civil disruption.
Al Zintan militia, a group of nearly 4,000 ex-rebels, have been providing security for the international airport since October 2011. Al-Zintan are most well-known for their current detention of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. The militia have been known to have rivalries with militias in Eastern Libya.
Eastern Libya itself has become a haven for armed militia groups who are currently at odds with the Tripoli government. In June 2013, the Cyrenaica Transitional Council (CTC) issued a declaration of autonomy for the eastern Libyan region. Earlier in March, the group attempted to provide Libyan oil to a North Korean vessel without the permission of the Tripoli government. The vessel was captured by the US Navy SEALs on 17 March.
On Thursday, 20 March, Libya’s government announced that it would mobilise security forces to address the terrorist groups that have been responsible for a large number of attacks, kidnapping, and violence, particularly against security services and foreigners.
The Tripoli International Airport partially opened earlier today, using the old north-south runway while the main runway remained closed for maintenance, now complete. However, many flights, including those of Air Malta, Tunis Air, Alitalia and Lufthansa, had already been cancelled due to confusion as to when the airport would reopen. Further, other flights have been cancelled because fearful passengers have not turned up, and a lack of staff after they were sent home in the morning.
It is expected that the airport will restart normal services tomorrow (22 March).