ISIS resurrection: Libya attacks foreshadow terror to come
It was a gray Wednesday morning in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, when the shooting started. The employees at the election commission headquarters in the upscale Andalus district were startled and became even more alarmed as the shooting grew heavier and drew nearer. When the explosions began to thunder, shaking the buildings in the compound, the dread grew into panic: they knew they were under attack by ISIS, or some equally nefarious group.
“We were inside one of the administration buildings and we moved to one of the offices and stayed inside,” said an employee of an organization affiliated with Libya’s election commission. She spoke to The Daily Beast from Tripoli by phone, shortly after the May 2 attack, on the condition she not be named. “It was just horrific.”
There was a method to the rampage which, according to a security official in Tripoli, lasted no more than 15 minutes and involved two fighters who blew themselves up before they could be killed or detained. They went straight for the facility housing the computer that stores the names and addresses of Libya’s voters. The attack was meant to sabotage elections scheduled to be held sometime this year which are an effort to stitch the fractured country back together.
“They knew where they were going,” she said. “They blew up the building that had the database.”
At least 16 people were killed and some 20 others wounded in the assault on Libya’s High National Election Commission. It was the first major attack in Tripoli claimed by the so-called Islamic State since September 2015. Then, less than a week later, ISIS claimed a May 8 suicide car bomb east of Sirte that killed two security personnel and injured three. Last Wednesday it claimed two attacks in the country’s east, targeting checkpoints near Ajdabiya and Awjila, killing at least two soldiers loyal to the faction controlling that part of the country.
All indicators suggest the group is growing and sees Libya as a potential base for regional operations.
“We’re seeing a restoration of the group under new conditions,” said Geoff Porter, a North Africa specialist at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. “They’ve restored their capabilities and are intent to use them.”
For a while, ISIS appeared to be in retreat in Libya. The jihadis had gained ground in the chaotic aftermath of the NATO-backed toppling of Muammer Gaddafi in 2011 at the hands of homegrown rebel fighters. In the ensuing chaos the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in a violent 2012 riot centered on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. Exploiting infighting among various anti-Gaddafi factions and rifts that resulted in several competing governments, ISIS managed to win control of important enclaves in the vast oil-rich country, including Sirte, the central Libyan coastal city that was Gaddafi’s hometown.
In December 2016, Backed by U.S. airstrikes and commandos, local militias drove ISIS’s Libya affiliate out of Sirte, raising hopes that the jihadi group’s presence in the north African country would fade. In 2017, ISIS managed to pull off only four operations.
But less than five months into 2018 ISIS already has launched at least 10 attacks. Though it has been downgraded without control over coastal cities, it remains a potent force.
“They’re a little more agile, sharper and more flexible in the way they operate,” said Anas el-Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan think tank. “And they’re much more difficult for a security apparatus to monitor. Their size is smaller but their potency is increasing. We have to contrast their downscaling as an organization and their upscaling in impact.”
Ahmed Bin Salem, spokesman for the Reaction Force, a militia that controls much of the capital, told The Daily Beast that security forces have been tracking ISIS fighters from both Sirte and eastern Libya as they attempt to set up cells inside Tripoli. “We have to focus on who is coming to Tripoli,” he said. “We are collecting a lot of intelligence.”
Source: The Daily Beast