ISIS Growing Presence in Libya Threatens Europe and the U.S.
By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Friday, February 19th, 2016 @ 10:27PM
Left: Islamic State’s controlled Sirte, Libya, provides easy access to Europe (Source:news.com.au)
The U.S. bombing of an ISIS training camp in Qasr Talel, Libya, today, killed 43 operatives, including their Tunisian leader, Noureddine Chouchane. This airstrike came shortly after leaks from the defense department that “the Obama administration has turned down a U.S. military plan for an assault on ISIS’s regional hub there,” the port city of Sirte.
The U.S. involvement in Libya that begun with Operation Odyssey Dawn‘s airstrikes on Libya in March 2011 assisted Muslim Brotherhood affiliates efforts to oust Muammar Gadhafi. The help to the anti-Gadhafi opposition resulted in a war-torn country with daily violent clashes. This gave al Qaeda’s adherents the opportunity “to establish well-armed, well-trained and combat-experienced militias,” concluded a report from the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress in August 2012.
Libya became a fertile ground for ISIS.
Libya’s coastline’s strategic importance as a stepstone to Europe was not wasted on ISIS. In January 2015, ISIS started to ship more than a million Muslim refugees to the Italian island of Lampedusa, just 162 nm from the Libyan coastline. This was followed by repeated calls for ISIS operatives to travel to Libya. Intelligence sources reported that “ISIS earns millions of dollars from taking part in the networks that smuggle migrants to Europe.”
It is unknown the ISIS operatives arrived in Europe via Libya as refugees. Indeed, until yesterday, ISIS operatives who traveledto Libya, had the ability to travel to the U.S. from any country in the U.S.Visa Waiver Program. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security announced new regulations restricting visa waivers to individuals who visited Libya after March 1, 2011.
After the U.S bombing of the Libya training camp today, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook explained the facility was hit because ISIS operatives there “have posed a direct threat to the United States, they have encouraged attacks against the United States and our allies, and we’re going to continue to confront [ISIS] to protect our national security.”
However, Obama is in no hurry. When asked about his plan to attack ISIS in Libya, he responded, “as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in in Libya, we take them.” But he would join international military efforts to counter-ISIS in Libya, only after a unity government is in place; an unlikely outcome in Libya the foreseeable future.
Spotlight on Global Jihad highlighted main ISIS related news in Libya:
* On February 12, 2016, Hezbollah-affiliated television channel “Al-Mayadeen” reported that “Abu Omar the Chechen” has been appointed as ISIS’s leader in Libya. “Abu Omar the Chechen” is the codename of Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Chechen operative of Georgian origin who once served as a sergeant in Georgia’s armed forces. IHE came to Syria in 2012 together with other fighters from Chechnya and other countries. He first joined the Al-Nusra Front and commanded a force by the name of the Army of Emigrants. At the end of 2013, he left the Al-Nusra Front along with some of his men and joined the ranks of ISIS. He pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who appointed him as the commander of northern Syria. He has been reported killed several times.
- In the Al-Fataeh region, which dominates Derna, clashes continue between ISIS and operatives of the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Derna (a jihadi organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda). ISIS claimed responsibility for planting an IED in a camp of Abu Salim (Martyrs’ Brigade) at the western entrance to Derna. According to ISIS, this caused the deaths of three operatives. On the other hand, the Shura Council of the Jihad Fighters of Derna claimed that its men had killed an ISIS operative who attempted to plant an IED at the camp (Al-Wasat Portal, February 12, 2016; Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, February 11, 2016).
- On February 7, 2016, ISIS’s media foundation in the Barqa Province published a series of photos showing ISIS operatives carrying out military activity in the Al-Fataeh region (Akhbar Dawlat al-Islam, February 7, 2016).
- According to sources in Sirte, ISIS has declared a general mobilization in the city of Sirte. ISIS operatives are reportedly driving through the city streets and using loudspeakers to call on residents to join the jihad. In the Friday sermon delivered on February 12, 2016, preachers at ISIS’s mosques stressed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had issued an order to carry out a jihad against all those who attack the borders of the “Sirte Emirate”. They called on all the residents of Sirte to help ISIS kill the “infidels” (Al-Wasat Portal, February 13, 2016).
- At the same time, ISIS ordered the owners of houses located along the seaside to evacuate them as soon as possible. It also transferred many operatives from the town of Bin Jawad to Sirte, stationing them near the power plant in the west of the city (Al-Wasat Portal, February 9 and 11, 2016). Also, ISIS operatives reportedly dug a trench some three kilometers long in a rural area west of the city of Sirte. They also evacuated most of their headquarters and camps in western Sirte and moved to the city’s residential areas, suburbs and agricultural areas (Al-Wasat Portal, February 13, 2016).
- This week, fighting continued in the city of Benghazi between the forces of Khalifa Haftar, operating on behalf of the Tobruk government, and ISIS operatives and the operatives of the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries in Benghazi.According to a Libyan Army source, the Army destroyed a vessel carrying military supplies to Libya, before it managed to get close to the Benghazi coast (alarabiya.net, February 12, 2016).
Palestinian operative from Rafah killed in the ranks of ISIS in Libya
- The Palestinian media reported the death of a Palestinian operative from Rafah namedMufleh As’ad Abd al-Wahed Abu Aadra, aka Abu Abdullah. The operative was killed fighting in the ranks of ISIS in Tripoli, Libya. He was married with two children and left the Gaza Strip a year ago. His family noted that they had received the notice of his death on February 15, 2016, without any details about the circumstances of his death (Ma’an News Agency; zamnpress, February 16, 2016).