Today, Wikistrat launches a 48-hour speed simulation in which analysts are asked to design policy options for Libya’s neighbors, Arab Gulf states, the European Union and the United States to confront the tumultuous situation in the country.
More than three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is taking advantage of the political chaos in Libya, stepping up attacks and establishing strongholds there. Recently, ISIS fighters were shown beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach; the group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 35 in the city of Qubba.
Libya has grown increasingly unstable over the last year due to violence among competing militias and rivalry between two separate governments: the internationally-recognized, Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, and the Islamist-sympathetic government led by Omar Al-Hassi out of Tripoli.
Reports indicate that ISIS militants have established a base in the city of Derna, where Egypt carried out airstrikes following the execution of the Coptic hostages. Two million Egyptians live in Libya, but many have begun returning home as the situation deteriorates.
Some residents say ISIS is levying taxes and setting up courts in Derna. The group has also seized a university in Sirte, and videos circulate on social media show ISIS troops patrolling the streets there.
The number of ISIS fighters currently in Libya is unclear, but reports indicate that members of local Islamist militias are defecting to ISIS ranks.
The foreign minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, Mohamed Dayri, told U.S. officials in Washington that his government needs immediate military assistance to deal with the situation. But the U.S. is reluctant to provide aid until a government of national unity is formed.
Meanwhile, Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Egypt to protest its intervention in Libya. The Gulf Cooperation Council, however, has given its full support to Egypt, issuing a statement that said it backed Cairo in “fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens at home and abroad.”
The Qatari government supports the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) Islamist alliance in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined Egypt in supporting the recognized government in Tobruk and its main military backer, General Khalifa Haftar.
The current challenge is to combine the efforts of interested countries to prevent ISIS from gaining further control of Libya and ensuring the extremist organization does not spread into other North African states like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
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