Libya Needs More Than Unity Government to Halt IS Rise

Libya Needs More Than Unity Government to Halt IS Rise
A Libyan soldier wakes his comrade in Al Ajaylat, 75 miles west of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Mohamed Ben Khalifa).

Four years after the revolution began to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi’s regime with NATO’s help, and amid a worsening civil war, Libya today faces a new and very real threat: militants affiliated with the self-declared Islamic State (IS). Even though Libya has no religious divisions that IS can exploit to establish a foothold, the country’s ongoing political crisis, armed conflict and security vacuum provide a fertile environment for IS to expand its influence to Europe’s doorstep.

The Islamic State’s senior leadership in Libya is made up of foreign fighters from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, who were dispatched to Libya by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last summer to coordinate with local jihadis. Like IS in Iraq and Syria, its ranks in Libya are diverse, with Sudanese, Tunisian, Saudi and Libyan nationals reportedly carrying out its suicide missions. The group has also tapped Libyan jihadis who have fought with other local extremist groups, such as Ansar al-Sharia, as well as Libyans who have returned from fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria.

While IS lacks a major, local support base in Libya, its presence in the country has steadily grown in recent months. In addition to feeding off a fragmented and polarized society without capable state institutions, the group also benefits from the international community’s lack of strategy and reluctance to do more about the turmoil in Libya, a hands-off approach that only gives IS the time and space to spread unopposed. Indeed, IS does not have to be popular in Libya in order to dominate and expand; all it needs is a perpetuation of the status quo.

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