Accueil arrow Foreign analyzes arrow Islamic State in North Africa


Dr Marcin Styszynski






Dr Marcin Styszynski
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arabic and Islamic Studies

Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozn (Poland).





The Islamic State militants from Tripoli claimed responsibility for the last attack against Corinthia Hotel in Libya that killed at least 11 people, including three guards and five foreigners. It's the third assault against local authorities. In November 2014, a car bomb exploded in front of the embassies of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. On 17th January 2015, jihadists carried out an attack against Algerian Embassy in Tripoli. All assaults caused several casualties and various damages in the Libyan capital. They also demonstrate growing influences of radical Islam in North Africa.

In fact, Libya became the core base of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's followers in the region who carry out their local and transregional terrorist activities. The caliphate concept in Libya is a consequence of previous plans and actions of extremist groups which were forced to reorganize their structures and policy after successful antiterrorist campaigns led by Algeria in Sahara or France during the operation Serval in northern Mali, in 2013. The effective actions enabled to destroy terrorist bases in Sahel and eliminate key figures of Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), such as Abu Zeid and Abdallah Shanqiti, or local activists of Ansar al-Din and Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

In spite of the successful policy, Islamist movements in Maghreb searched for new secure territories to recover their operational structures and new alliances. The on-going developing situation in Maghreb and Sahel encouraged rebel leaders to propose, in July 2014, a meeting in Libya. The summit included groups from Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, as well as Boko Haram from West Africa[1].

The insurgents referred to the current situation in the movement, successful offensive conducted by ISIS and Al-Baghdadi, and declaration of the caliphate in Iraqi and Syrian territories. The participants also discussed whether to support Al-Zawahiri's leadership or declare loyalty to the new caliphate's leader. They also presented future ideological and strategic plans and goals.

The first scenario reflected creation of an expansive caliphate under the leadership of AQIM leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, in cooperation with the groups from Mali, Tunisia and Algeria. The second scenario included consolidation of allied forces from Libya and Egypt under the supervision of Al-Baghdadi. Moreover, the third scenario concerned creation of a smaller caliphate based on Libyan territories controlled by jihadist militias[2].

The insurgents have chosen the third scenario, which was implemented in November 2014 by jihadists who established an Islamic Council in Derna, in the east of Libya. Radicals marched through the streets of Derna and declared that they would act as the security forces and guards of Islamic laws[3].

In fact, the new caliphate was supported by other regional Islamists. Many insurgents barricaded in Libyan regions affected by ongoing political unrest and domination of tribal militias, like Al-Zintan that is active in mountainous region in the southwest of the country. The Brigade participated in liberation of Tripoli and arrested Gaddafi's son Sayf al-Islam. The Zintan tribe also controlled the international airport in Tripoli. Besides, Misrata Brigades is the most powerful organization in the West of the country, which played an essential role during Gaddafi military offensive against revolutionaries and fights in Tripoli. Tribal militias have cooperated with smuggling gangs and gunrunners who increased their activities after the collapse of the Gaddafi's regime and its institutions like police, secret services or judiciary and prisons.

Jihadist militias assimilated among different political or tribal forces and benefited from chaotic social and institutional circumstances. For example, one of the most dangerous terrorist, Mukhtar Belmokhtar moved to Libya with his new group (Mourabitounes) and allied with other organizations in the region, such as Uqba Ibn Nafi Brigade, from Tunisia, or Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, and the new Libyan groups Tahkim al-Din, Abu Salim or Al-Battar, from the east of the country.

Regional authorities continued their efforts against jihadist structures. In October 2013, American forces captured Abu Anas al-Libi, Al-Qaeda operative in Libya and one of the most wanted terrorists who was involved in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Dar es-Salaam and Nairobi. Al-Libi died on 2 January 2015 at a hospital in United States custody as a result of liver cancer[4].

Furthermore, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya has confirmed recently that its leader Mohammad al-Zahawi has died because of a battle with Libyan government troops in the eastern city of Benghazi, in October 2014. Ansar al-Sharia is blamed for the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which the US ambassador was killed[5].

The antiterrorist measures struck Derna caliphate and intensified jihadist concerns about future objectives and policy in the region. The situation forced many leaders to declare loyalty to Al-Baghdadi in order to receive logistic and military support.

The manifesto issued after the attack against Corinthia Hotel included phrases and epithets glorifying the Islamic State and referred to specific rhetoric applied by Al-Baghdadi's followers. Besides, the statement is called "Battle of Abu Anas al-Libi" that reflects the Islamic State's ideology regarding glorification of first jihadist generation like Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Abu Yahya al-Libi, including Abu Anas al-Libi. Those fighters symbolize for Al-Bagdadi's militants bravery, roots of jihad and successful strikes against regional and Western authorities.

Moreover, the attack against Corinthia Hotel was coordinated by Abu Nabil al-Anbari who is Al-Baghdadi's representative in Libya. Al-Anbari was sent from Iraq to the new frontline because of his brutality and ruthlessness in implementation of Al-Baghdadi's orders.

It should be also pointed out that last attack in Tripoli show a new tactic of jihadists headed by Al-Baghdadi's representatives. The assault targeted the new Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi who resides at the hotel and it was carried out during the second round of Libya peace talks in Geneva. The well-considered attack puts in that way more pressure on local and Western governments in order to get particular political and economic advantages[6].

However, the Islamic State support and Al-Anbari's appearance in Libya and his control of local insurgents show that the country and the region will be affected by new wave of terrorist activities similar to Iraq and Syria.

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