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Libyan Newswire

ISIS expands its activities in North Africa

ISISISIS expands its activities in North Africa

Published 18 February 2015

ISIS has been steadily expanding its presence and activities in North Africa. In Libya, the disintegration of the state and the unending war among the different armed militias, have offered ISIS ideal conditions to establish itself as a growing military force. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, various Islamist groups with grievances against the central governments have declared loyalty to ISIS, which they see as a vehicle to advance their agenda.

The recent beheadings of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians by Islamic State (ISIS)-linked militants in Libya prompted the Egyptian government to launch an air assault on ISIS camps in the Libyan coastal city of Darna. The beheadings in Libya reflects the progress ISIS has made from its initial stronghold in Syria and Iraq to influencing events in North Africa, including parts of Libya, Egypt, and Algeria. Several militant groups in these countries have pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, although U.S. officials cannot confirm to what degree these groups coordinate attacks with ISIS leadership. U.S. officials have, however, acknowledged the connection between ISIS’s ability to take advantage of weak, failing states such as Syria and Iraq and the group’s movement into North Africa.

Libya has been in the process of disintegration since the civil war that ousted Moammar Gadhafi from power in November 2011. In August, the newly elected government was forced to flee Tripoli to the eastern city of Tobruk as a coalition of Islamic and tribal militias, calling itself Libya Dawn, has taken over the capital city. Libya now has two prime ministers, two governments, and two parliaments: the internationally recognized government is in Tobruk, and the Islamist Libya Dawn – backed by Qatar and Turkey – in Tripoli.

It should be noted that words like “prime minister,” “government,” and “parliament” are used loosely here, since neither of the two governments has any sway beyond a few city blocks in Tobruk and Tripoli, respectively. Libya no longer exists as a unitary political unit, and different parts of the country are controlled by different armed militias.

The unending war among the armed militias has driven hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, and the human misery, massive dislocation, and total absence of a central authority have made Libya a fertile ground for ISIS. The group announced its operations in Libya last October, and the Libyan interior minister Omar al-Sinki – he is a minister in the Tobruk government — reported that al-Baghdadi appointed Abu Talha, a Tunisian, to lead the ISIS faction in Tripoli.

The Egyptian government is also battling an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip. Attacks in North Sinai escalated after the military removed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi from power in 2013. Since then, several militant groups have declared their allegiance to ISIS, with, according to Yahoo News, one group calling itself Sinai Province of the Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility for a series of attacks last month on Egyptian military posts.

ISIS has inspired several radical groups in Algeria, and even led some of them to split away from the North African-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Algerian Soldiers of the Caliphate, led by a veteran al-Qaeda commander, kidnapped French hiker Herve Gourdel last September, and in an ISIS type operation, released a video of Gourdel’s beheading. Algeria, which experience a bitter and bloody 10-year war against indigenous Islamists beginning in1992, has since launched several successful counterattacks against the group.

Earlier this month, thirty-two members of the Oqba ibn Nafaa brigade, a group with ties to both al-Qaeda and ISIS, were arrested for plotting to attack civilian and military sites around Tunisia, including the Interior Ministry. The spokesman for the ministry, Mohamed Ali Aroui, said some of those arrested had traveled to battlefronts abroad, notably Syria. Like Western counterterrorism officials, Tunisian authorities are now monitoring those returning from Syria.

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