ISIS Presence in Libya

IBT’s photo of an Islamic Youth Council convoy with ISIS flags

IBT’s photo of an Islamic Youth Council convoy with ISIS flags

Following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, members of the National Transitional Council (NTC)[1] struggled to maintain cohesion between the central government in Tripoli and regional governments, such as Benghazi.[2] Further complicating the situation on the ground was the proliferation of weapons and militias, cumulating in the September 2012 Benghazi Attack.[3] Major conflict broke out between the Libyan Army and Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist militia, in Beghanzi around November 2013.[4] Further fighting ensued following ethnic and religious lines, as well as contests over resources.[5] The most current – and dire – wave of fighting started in May 2014, when Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar declared war, or “Operation Dignity” on the Ansar al-Sharia militia.[6] The June elections flopped because of low turnout, and the prime minister was removed from office on the order of the supreme court.[7] Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have also become party to the conflict, as they have conducted airstrikes in Tripoli against Islamist militias.[8] Current key parties supporting the government in the conflict include the Libyan Army (conventional pro-government army), the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (parliamentary guards with questionable loyalty), National Security Directorate (police), Al-Saiqa Forces (paratroopers), and the Petroleum Facilities Guard (security forces for oil fields).[9] Key militias include Libyan Shield Force, the Libyan National Army, Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council, Al-Qaqa Brigade, Al-Sawaiq Brigade, Misrata Brigades, the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, and the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade.[10]

ISIS has established influence in Libya following the development of ungoverned spaces during the civil war. Approximately 800 militants of the Shura Council for the Youth of Islam and 300 Libyan fighters who fought for ISIS in Syria and returned to Libya dominate the town of Derna.[11] Both groups haven pledged allegiance to ISIS’s caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.[12] The militia has declared that Derna, population 100,000, is now a part of the Islamic State as the province of Barqa. The Shura Council for the Youth of Islam has usurped control of courts, schools, and communications.[13] Additionally, ISIS sympathizing cells have been detected in al Bayda, Benghazi, Sirte, al-Khums, and Tripoli.[14] The Shura Council for the Youth of Islam has training and operational capacity, as it launched a suicide attack in Tobruk, resulting fifteen casualties.[15] Thus, ISIS has a footprint in Libya.

Numerous high value targets (HVTs) are present in Syria. Abu Nabil al Anbar, an Iraqi ISIS commander with ties to Baghdadi has been witnessed in Derna.[16] A Saudi cleric with ISIS ties, Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi, appears to be in charge of the courts. He is also known as Mohammed Abdullah.[17] Key members of ISIS are in Libya.


Location of Derna, courtesy of CNN

Location of Derna, courtesy of CNN


[1] This organization became the “General National Congress” in August 2012.

[2] BBC, “Libya profile,” October 14, 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] NYT, “Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S,” August 25, 2014.

[9] BBC, “Guide to key Libyan militias,” May 20, 2014.

[10] Ibid.

[11] CNN, “ISIS comes to Libya,” November 18, 2014.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CNN, “ISIS comes to Libya,” November 18, 2014.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] IBT, “ISIS Establishes Stronghold In Derna, Libya,” November 10, 2014.


AP.How a Libyan city joined the Islamic State group.” November 9, 2014.

BBC. “BBC, “Guide to key Libyan militias.” May 20, 2014.

BBC. Libya Profile.” October 14, 2014.

CFR. Libya.” October 2014.

CNN. “ISIS comes to Libya.” November 18, 2014.

IBT. ISIS Establishes Stronghold In Derna, Libya.” November 10, 2014.

NYT. Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.” August 25, 2014.


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