Dr Marcin Styszynski
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Poland)
Photos showing control of main Sirte roads and checkpoints by fighters affiliated to the Islamic State.
The tragic terrorist attack on Bardo National Museum in Tunis, on 18 march 2015, finally defined the Islamic State (IS) influences in North Africa and strengthened the position of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the region. The organization claimed responsibility for the attack in Tunis and threatened to commit further acts.
In May 2015, Italian police arrested Moroccan citizen Touil Abdelmajid who reached Italy on a migrant boat. He brought weapons for the Bardo Museum attackers from Libya to Tunisia before the date of the attack.
The example demonstrates that IS supporters established their core bases in Libya. The country is affected by ongoing political unrest and domination of tribal militias and smuggling gangs or gunrunners, as well as crisis between secular forces in Tobruk and Islamist coalition from Tripoli called the Libyan Dawn.
However, the Islamic State domination in North Africa is also a result of additional reasons and external Islamist influences that impact operational, financial and military capacities as well as transregional activities of local insurgents.
It should be pointed out that jihadists in North Africa suffered and weakened after successful antiterrorist actions headed by neighboring countries like Algeria and France. It concerns French military intervention in Mali in 2013 that neutralized rebel camps in northern Mali and successful antiterrorist operations in Chaambi mountains, between Algerian and Tunisian borders, infiltrated by main jihadist groups like Uqba Ibn Nafi, Mourabitoun or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Besides, in October 2013, American forces captured Abu Anas al-Libi, an 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 an hospital in United States custody as a result of liver cancer. Furthermore, the main jihadist group 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.
The pessimistic situation forced many jihadists to search new support, approaches and objectives. Al-Baghdadi responded to insurgents' hopes and offered new concept of jihad and establishment of the historic caliphate as well as military, logistic and financial assistance.
Moreover, the Islamic State took advantages of the decreasing role of Al-Qaeda and its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who could not achieve the same position like Osama bin Laden. The spokesman of the Islamic State, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, issued the manifesto Ma kana hada manhajuna wa lan yakuna ("It was not our way and it won't be"), which criticizes Al-Qaida Central and defines final separation between old jihadists and young generation of Islamists.
Furthermore, external influences in North Africa are evident in the context of foreign militants like Abu Nabil al-Anbari. He is an Iraqi national that served as governor of Salahudeen province in Iraq. Al-Anbari was sent from Iraq to the new frontline because of his brutality and ruthlessness in implementation of Al-Baghdadi's orders. The Libyan caliphate is also supported by Abu Habeeb al-Jazrawi, a Saudi citizen who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, accepting him as the Caliph and new leader over Libya. Besides, Abu Baraa al-Azdi is a Yemeni citizen who is the religious leader in Dernah city and local governor after the declaration of the loyalty to the Islamic State.
Insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State are operating in their bases in mountainous regions in the south of Dernah city as well as Sirte or Sidi Frej district in Benghazi. In November 2014 jihadists established an Islamic Council in Dernah. They marched through the streets of the city and declared that they would act as the security forces and guards of Islamic laws. Similar demonstrations took place in other cities dominated by Islamist militias.
Apart from the last Bardo Museum attacks in Tunis, insurgents affiliated to the IS have already increased their terrorist activities in Libya. For instance, 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. In November 2014, a car bomb exploded in front of 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. The Islamic State also released a video showing brutal beheading of Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach.
Jihadist groups have also concentrated recently in Sabratah city near Tunisian borders in order to carry out some actions in neighboring countries considered as main regions of Western influences, secularism or infidelity and sins.