ISIS benefits from Libya’s UpheavalFebruary 2, 2015 in ISIS, Libya, United Nations
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.