The Islamic State Challenge in Libya
… the abundance of arms and the condition of tawahhush (mayhem) then ideal for jihad …
OE Watch Commentary: According to an article in the November issue of the Islamic State’s (IS) propaganda magazine, Dabiq, excerpted alongside this commentary, Libya has “the strongest presence of the Islamic State” outside of the Syria-Iraq core. On first glance, this seems unimpressive: two heavily armed coalitions (“Dawn” and “Dignity”), neither with ties to the IS, have been contesting power in Libya for some time. Unlike Iraq and Syria, the IS in Libya hardly registers in a traditional military sense. Yet IS expansion in Libya is on everyone’s mind, including the group itself. The second accompanying article, notes how IS supporters have launched a Twitter campaign using an Arabic-language hashtag that translates as “#Emigration_to_the_State _in_Libya.” According to the article, Libya’s IS branch has drawn fighters from neighboring countries and other parts of Africa.
The IS’s “official” armed presence in Libya is based in Derna, a coastal city in the country’s east that was a center of the anti-Gaddafi Islamist insurgency in the 1990s. In 2014, veterans of the Syrian jihad returned to bolster a group called the “Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islami” (MSSI or “Islamic Youth Shura Council”) and in October they officially declared themselves as a Libyan-based IS affiliate. The MSSI hardly lords over Derna, as some English-language media outlets have stated or implied. Indeed its practices have ruffled the feathers of local Islamist militias with more nationalist orientations, particularly the powerful Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (which recently formed a new group called the Derna Shura Council). As was the case in various parts of Syria, any attempt by the IS to exert full control over a significant Libyan population center would likely be challenged locally.
IS presence in Libya is not limited to Derna. The third accompanying article highlights the group’s influence in the city of Sirte, once a bastion of Gaddafi support and more recently a stronghold of the jihadi group Ansar al-Shari’a. The article sees the line between the IS and Ansar al-Shari’a as increasingly blurry and claims that the IS is focusing on western Libya, particularly the cities of Tripoli, al-Zawiya and Sabrata.
What is clear is that IS presence is being felt throughout Libya. In a three-week span starting late December 2014 and into 2015, IS militants in the country claimed or were associated with a variety of attacks, including rocket fire against the al-Abraq (Labraq) Airbase next to the town of Shahhat in the east, urban combat against government troops in the Benghazi suburb of al-Laythi, the ambush and killing of another dozen government troops in the southern desert near Sabha, claims of having kidnapped around a dozen Coptic Christian Egyptians in Sirte, and the attention-grabbing though unconfirmed claim that they had killed two kidnapped Tunisian journalists. In addition, video of a recruitment/propaganda (Daw’ah) tent in Derna and photos of religious police (Hisbah) in various parts of Libya, both with IS branding, have been posted to the Internet.
Libya is currently in a state of political fragmentation, spiraling violence and general uncertainty, known in the jihadi lexicon as a state of “tawahhush” (mayhem, savagery). Domestically, this is a favorable environment for the IS both to incubate and to grow, which is why the group’s propaganda warrants serious attention. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)
Source: “Remaining and Expanding,” November 2014. Dabiq. Available at:
Libya – from amongst the lands mentioned in the official expansion – is the one with the strongest presence of the Islamic State, with larger cities already being administered solely by its leaders and soldiers… the Islamic State uprooted methodologies in Libya that allowed for the consolidation of murtaddin – the allies of the crusaders – by ordering to directly target them, despite what might be said by the weak-hearted and sick-hearted, those who claimed that Libya should only be a land for “da’wah” immediately after the killing of Gaddafi despite the abundance of arms and the condition of tawahhush (mayhem) then ideal for jihad.”
“Islamic State Supporters Call for Mobilization to its Libyan Branch,” 15 January 2015. Al-Sabeel (Jordan).
Supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham have begun a publicity campaign for the group’s Libyan branch… its supporters created the hashtag “#(see above hyperlink) ” … fighters from Libya, as well as from African countries and particularly Sudan, Senegal and Mali, as well as a number of Tunisians, Egyptians and Algerians, together constitute the core of the Islamic State in Libya.
Source: “Libya: The Islamic State Organization Declares Sirte an Islamic Emirate,” 10 January 2015. Le Maghreb (Tunisia).
Only days after officially announcing its official presence in Libya and expanding its operations, military sources from eastern Libya claim that the Islamic State organization intends to announce a new Islamic Emirate in Sirte in the following days… A local security report spoke of the existence of an extremist organization that follows the IS ideology and seeks to implement religious punishment as is done in the emirate of Derna, as well as to replace the civilian state apparatus with religious institutions as a prelude to ruling by Shari’a…. The spread of the IS and its goal of imposing its ideology is also on the verge of occurring in Tripoli, al-Zawiya and Sabrata.