Libya’s chaos continues to feed extremist threat

A picture taken on December 25, 2018 shows security officers at the scene of an attack outside the Libyan foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2018
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Libya’s chaos continues to feed extremist threat

  • The last attack claimed by Daesh targeted Tripoli’s foreign ministry on Tuesday, killing three and causing major damage to one of the capital’s supposedly most secure buildings
  • Daesh has “benefited from divisions” in the aftermath of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falling in 2011

TRIPOLI: Two years after the Daesh group lost the Libyan city of Sirte — its last stronghold in the country — the extremists continues to launch attacks, including in the heart of the capital, profiting from government weakness and general chaos.
The last attack claimed by Daesh targeted Tripoli’s foreign ministry on Tuesday, killing three and causing major damage to one of the capital’s supposedly most secure buildings.
It followed two similar attacks, one in September against the headquarters of the national oil company that killed two and another that hit the electoral commission in Tripoli in May, when 14 were slain.
“Daesh has proved that it is capable of maneuvering and of hitting strongly, two years after the loss of its stronghold in Sirte,” said Libyan political analyst Jalal Al-Fitouri.
Its capabilities persist despite “the hunting down (of its fighters) in the Libyan desert by Libyan armed groups and the US military, which has launched numerous strikes against Daesh in the south,” he said.
Daesh has “benefited from divisions” in the aftermath of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falling in 2011, Fitouri noted.
Libya is divided between several rival entities, chief among them an internationally-recognized Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al-Sarraj in Tripoli and a parallel administration in the east loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.
The political chaos and insecurity benefits jihadist groups, which have carried out numerous attacks in recent years, including more than 20 in 2018 against institutions linked to the GNA and Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
“In the absence of a monopoly on the use of force in the country, Daesh has been able to consolidate,” said Mohammed Al-Agouri, a professor at Benghazi university in eastern Libya.
“It targets Haftar’s and Sarraj’s forces at the same time — as well as symbolic sites — in order to say ‘We are still here!’ and to recruit new foreign and local sympathizers,” he said.
“If the country’s authorities do not unite... a loss of control (over the situation) could come at any moment,” Agouri warned.
The GNA has sought to improve security in the capital in order to convince Western nations to re-open embassies, which have been shuttered since 2014 due to violence.
But Tuesday’s attack once again exposed the extreme weakness of the GNA, which has repeatedly failed to impose its authority over militias in the capital since it came into being in 2016, despite promising security sector reforms guided by the UN.
These reforms — announced after deadly clashes in September between rival groups in and around Tripoli — seek to reduce the influence of militias whose tentacles extend throughout the capital and its state institutions.
Tuesday’s attack against the foreign ministry risks extinguishing the GNA’s hopes.
“The security situation appears to be good, but in reality it is not,” GNA interior minister Fathi Bash Agha admitted to reporters several hours after the attack.
He recognized that the promised reforms have not been implemented.
He also implicitly accused some armed groups of not obeying orders, and acknowledged the GNA’s weakness in the face of supposedly loyal militias.
“The security chaos that persists creates fertile ground for Daesh,” said Agha.
He spoke of his frustration over the lack of resources available to his ministry, including arms.
The GNA on Tuesday renewed a call for a UN arms embargo imposed on the country since 2011 to be eased, “in order to bolster the security situation and fight terrorism.”
But analysts are dubious about this logic.
“The international community will not allow Libya to import arms, because the government is weak in dealing with the militias,” said Fayrouz Al-Dali, a political science professor in Tripoli.
“The fears of seeing these arms finding their way into bad hands persists,” she warned.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 49 min 2 sec ago
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”