Libya Provides ‘Fertile Ground’ for Jihadist Groups
Libya descended into chaos following the U.S.-backed overthrow and execution of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, creating a vacuum for the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and other jihadist groups to fill.
Salman Abedi, the terrorist that police say was behind the ISIS-linked attack in Manchester, England, that killed at least 22 people and injured dozens more, was born to Libyan parents in England.
He reportedly traveled to Libya days before carrying out the massacre at an Ariana Grande concert full of kids.
Some news reports have identified Manchester as being home to the largest Libyan community in the United Kingdom.
“The father and brother of the Manchester attacker Salman Abedi, have been arrested by counter-terrorism forces in Libya,” reports the Independent. “The attacker’s father and brothers have been linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda.”
British authorities also arrested Abedi’s other brother following raids on a property by law enforcement in Manchester.
Although U.S.-backed militias have pushed ISIS out of its Libyan stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, U.S. and local military officials believe the terrorist organization still poses a threat and is regrouping elsewhere in the North African country.
The U.S. military once considered Sirte ISIS’s largest stronghold outside its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
In March, Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), told American lawmakers:
The status of ISIS in Libya is they right now are regrouping. They’re in small numbers, small groups… after they left Sirte, we developed intelligence [and] we bombed them on January 18 and they were in the southern part of Libya. They’ve scattered again now.
The lack of a working central government and the ongoing chaos in Libya is setting the stage for ISIS or any other terrorist group to flourish.
“The instability in Libya and North Africa caused by years of political infighting may be the most significant near term threat to the U.S. and allies’ interests on the continent,” declared the top American general. “Stability in Libya is a long term proposition. We must maintain pressure on the ISIS Libya network and concurrently support Libya’s efforts to reestablish legitimate and unified government.”
Echoing the U.S. commander in Africa, a member of the Libyan army loyal to United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli told VICE News that ISIS’s Libyan branch remains a threat.
“Daesh [ISIS] is currently what you would call a wounded animal in Libya,” Ahmed el-Sherif, the Libyan soldier, told VICE.
Referring to the current situation, he added, “We now have a fertile ground, fit to breed other criminal gangs different from but akin to Daesh. They could be larger than Daesh.”
However, the footage obtained by VICE purportedly shows that the city is deserted.
“In Libya, the ISIS stronghold in Sirte has been degraded. But what remains is a divided nation littered with independent militias, flooded with arms and searching in vain for legitimate governance and political unity,” noted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the U.S. Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in March.
Explaining how ISIS came to control Sirte, located a few hundreds of miles from the European coast, Ahmed Elershiya, an alleged member of the terrorist group, told VICE that the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia facilitated the process.
Ansar al-Sharia established a presence in Sirte after the fall of Gaddafi, noted the ISIS jihadist held as a prisoner in Libya.
“They swore loyalty to ISIS, to [the group’s leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he told the news outlet. “So they became an organization of ISIS.”
ISIS considers al-Qaeda its enemy and vice versa.