Q&A on the Strife in Libya

Charlotte Florance /

Libya is enduring almost daily attacks at the hands of nongovernment militias and Islamist militants. These undermining activities include stolen oil shipments, terrorist attacks, unlawful security checkpoints, and human rights abuses, and the list of violent and disruptive behavior at the hands of unrecognized armed militias and Islamist militants continues. We sat down with Heritage expert Charlotte Florance to better understand what is going on in Libya and who is behind these violent activities.

1. What happened in Libya after Muammar Qadhafi was killed?

Qadhafi provided a “strong arm” in Libya and with his death many of the groups that were either banned or under his control competed to fill the power vacuum. Popular revolts often unite disparate opposition groups against an unpopular regime, but once that regime is gone, so too is the unifying force behind the loosely linked rebel fighters. The Libyan uprising resulted in an unprecedented level of weapons proliferation, particularly through the unsecured borders in southern Libya. Much of the conflict in neighboring Mali was a result of arms proliferation and the large number of fighters left over from the Libyan uprising. Because security is returning to Mali, many of the arms and fighters are returning to Libya.

2. What are the main armed militias and Islamist militants active in Libya?

Numerous armed groups operate within Libya’s borders, and many are even under government control for political purposes, but the main groups unaffiliated with the government of Libya are:

3. Could the lack of ungoverned space contribute to global terrorism?

Yes. Due to virtually non-existent government-sponsored security forces and extremely porous borders, the movement terrorist groups can easily go undetected. Libya is headed down the path of a failed state—if it is not already there. So long as Libya lacks an effective government, Libyans will likely seek local militia or Islamist support to provide local security, social services, and administrative needs. The “Somalization” of Libya has already begun.

Heritage intern Kyle Bevers assisted with the research for this post.