ISIS leader al-Baghdadi in Libya?

Jim Hanson

1 year ago

July 17, 2019

It’s possible and given the number of extremist groups including ISIS operating there, not improbable.

One of the biggest problems in Libya is the UN-Approved Government of National Accord (GNA) is deeply compromised by the direct participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in its coalition. But even more dangerous is the fact it is using extremist and terrorist militias to do much of its fighting.

Al Qaeda affiliates as well as groups tied to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens are part of their fighting forces. They are being paid right out of the Libyan Central Bank which requires us to consider whether the GNA is now a state sponsor of terrorism.

ISIS also operates in Libya and there are reports and some evidence that there is at least a truce between them and the GNA or worse active payments to buy a cease fire and redirect the terror groups efforts against Marshal Haftar’s LNA forces.

“With the renewed pressure from Haftar’s army on the GNA, it would make sense to pursue a truce with ISIS in order to focus on a common enemy. The Sabha attack of this weekend was carried out near a GNA-aligned region held by the southern elements of Libya Shield Force. This would have been a natural staging area for the attack, as well as a safe place to disperse afterwards. One of the joint claims of responsibility might be false, but it is also plausible that this was a joint operation.

If that proves to be the case, then SSG’s Libyan sources may well be correct that the GNA is expending its “capital defense” money at least partly in buying ISIS’s temporary cooperation.”

Now we hear of an even more ominous development.

Former Iraqi Minister Baqer Jabr al-Zubeidi said ISIL ringleader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding in Libya and continues to command terrorist operations from the African country.

This is unconfirmed at this point, but it is plausible for several reasons. ISIS needs a new home since they lost the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. They chose to build a physical state and were far more successful than just about anyone expected. This differentiated them from al Qaeda which has foregone planting flags in the ground for propagating an ideology. ISIS now either needs to adapt to a lack of a physical state or chose a new location.

Libya already has a large number of their fighters who fled the collapsing Caliphate, so it is not unreasonable to think their leader Baghdadi may chose to join them. He made a point of calling out to the “Brothers in Libya” during the recent video he made talking about ISIS’ current operations.

In addition the current GNA government is desperately seeking allies and is quite comfortable with Islamists and other terrorist groups. And even if they weren’t, they have more than they can handle already with the LNA forces on the outskirts of Tripoli. So even if they wanted to oppose an ISIS expansion, they may not be able to.

The resurgence of ISIS in Libya would add another urgent factor to the reasons President Trump already said that Haftar is his man. The LNA has specifically made its mission the removal of all extremist militias from their malign effect on the country.

This matches the US interest in not allowing safe havens for terror groups and especially not in a country that has tremendous oil revenues they can exploit. It appears that the regional powers supporting the LNA which include the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have begun reinforcing them with the necessary military power to bring the conflict there to an end.

The hope is that a display of force and the understanding that a peaceful solution is better for all can avoid the need for the LNA to actually have to enter Tripoli in force. That would lead to civilian casualties which is in no ones’s interest. Although causing civilian casualties and using them as human shields is a common tactic of the extremists and certainly ISIS. They have done that already in this conflict.

“…civilians should not be held in or around areas that may be a military target. And so keeping, detaining people, trapped against their will in a military location, is akin to using them as human shields.”

The best case scenario involves demobilizing the extremist and terrorist militias and then installing an interim government for a short period until regular elections can be held. These elections must be structured so that the extremists cannot again gain control as they have currently with the GNA. Libya will be much better off, as will all of us, if we can make this happen.

About the Author

Jim Hanson

Jim served in US Army Special Forces and conducted Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Insurgency as well as Diplomatic, Intelligence and Humanitarian operations in more than a dozen countries. He is the author of Cut Down the Black Flag – A Plan to Defeat the Islamic State, and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, BBC, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, C-Span, and numerous national radio shows.