Egypt retaliated for the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Christian workers held hostage in Libya by supporters of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) by bombing bases and training camps controlled by that revolutionary terrorist movement. Some of the targets were located near the cities of Derna and Sirte.
Eastern Libya long has been a stronghold of support for Islamist extremism and the Islamic State is estimated to have approximately 800 men under arms inside Libya, some of whom have returned from fighting overseas in Syria and Iraq.
Libyans were disproportionately represented in the ranks of the forerunner of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and among foreign fighters flocking to Syria/Iraq.
The Islamic State also has been joined by defectors from many of the Islamist militias that have struggled for power since the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi in 2011. Last year, the Islamic State announced that three “provinces” had been established in Libya: one in Derna, one in the south and one around the capital of Tripoli, in the west.
The propaganda video of the execution of the Egyptian hostages was the first propaganda exercise carried out by these Libyan “provinces” of the Islamic State. It included a warning about “Rome” being bloodied, a reference to the apocalyptic struggle it sees itself waging. The video is likely to be followed by more videos as the Islamic State flexes its newfound muscles in Libya.
To defeat ISIS in Libya, it would require herculean efforts to unite Libya’s quarrelling factions long enough to gain their help in dismantling its newly established “provinces.”
Although the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to Libya, Egypt and other countries have become increasingly concerned with the expanding strength of the Islamic State and other Islamist extremist groups in Libya. Cairo has called for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would support its military efforts there.
Italy has signaled that it is considering a military intervention in its former Libyan colony to thwart the Islamic State and also would want a U.N. mandate to back it up. Italy is particularly alarmed at the upsurge of illegal immigrants landing on its shores after passing through chaotic Libya. But it is unclear if Russia, China or even the United States would support a U.N. military mission in Libya.
Libya has been shattered by factional infighting between two major regional coalitions, Libya Dawn in Tripoli and the west, and the Dignity coalition in the east, which supports the recognized Libyan government, now sitting in Tobruk.
If the Islamic State is to be defeated in Libya, it would require herculean efforts to unite Libya’s quarrelling factions long enough to gain their help in dismantling its newly established “provinces.” Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.