Battle for Libya’s Tripoli gives chance to Daesh

Extremist groups capitalized on Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019

Battle for Libya’s Tripoli gives chance to Daesh

  • Daesh had its main stronghold in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, east of Tripoli, until it was expelled from the Mediterranean coastal city in December 2016
  • The extremists still pose a threat in oil-rich Libya, where they were blamed for around 20 attacks last year

TRIPOLI: The battle for Tripoli between rival Libyan forces both championing the fight against “terrorism” has created a security vacuum, allowing the Daesh group a chance to re-emerge, analysts warn.
Libya expert Emad Badi says the fighting has given Daesh “the opportunity to reorganize, recruit and strike alliances with other groups (and organize attacks) to show they are still around.”
Extremist groups capitalized on Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 uprising that killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi to establish a presence in the North African country.
Daesh had its main stronghold in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, east of Tripoli, until it was expelled from the Mediterranean coastal city in December 2016.
The group’s demise came at the hands of forces loyal to the Tripoli-based internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), especially fighters from the western city of Misrata.
Those fighters are among pro-GNA forces now battling the self-styled Libyan National Army of military strongman Khalifa Haftar who launched an assault on Tripoli on April 4.
Haftar has vowed to “cleanse” Libya of jihadists and presents himself as the country’s savior.
In 2017, he drove hard-line militants out of second city Benghazi after a three-year battle and ousted extremists from Derna, also in the east.
Then in January he launched an operation to “purge the south of terrorist and criminal groups” before setting his sights on Tripoli.
But despite being weakened, the extremists still pose a threat in oil-rich Libya, where they were blamed for around 20 attacks last year.
And over the past week Daesh has carried out two deadly assaults targeting Haftar’s forces — on a training camp in the southern city of Sebha on May 4 that left nine dead and an attack Thursday in Ghodwa, also in the south, that killed two civilians.

Instability has reigned over Libya since the 2011 uprising, with rival political and military forces vying for power and fighting for the country’s oil wealth and cities.
Extremist groups such as Daesh have fed on this chaos to grow, and divisions that persist as reflected by the battle for Tripoli only serve to bolster them, analysts say.
“The divisions give terrorists an unexpected opportunity to mobilize and reorganize,” said Khaled Al-Montasser, a professor of international studies who lectures at Libyan universities.
After losing Sirte and Derna, Daesh was weakened but not totally defeated as its fighters withdrew to the country’s remote and vast desert in the south or infiltrated coastal communities.
The threat militants pose was highlighted in a statement Thursday by the GNA, which also blamed Haftar’s offensive for giving groups like Daesh another chance to regroup.
“GNA forces continue to repel the Haftar militias but their attacks... destabilize our country and allow terrorist groups like IS to re-emerge,” it said.
Karim Bitar, director of research at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, draws a parallel with Syria and Iraq, where Daesh built a “caliphate” after a lightning offensive in 2014.
“In Libya, as in Iraq and Syria before it, IS took advantage of a vacuum... and the collapse of the state’s structures to anchor itself,” he said.
“As long as Libya is divided and as long as the state’s sovereign authority is not re-established across the country, there is a risk that Daesh will be able to regain ground,” he said.


From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

Updated 26 min 27 sec ago

From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

  • Doors open again after virus lockdown
  • Internal flights resume from Saudi airports

JEDDAH/AMMAN: It began at dawn. As the first light appeared on the horizon and the call to Fajr prayer rang out, Muslims from Riyadh to Madinah and Jeddah to Jerusalem returned to their mosques on Sunday after a two-month break that for many was unbearable.

More than 90,000 mosques throughout Saudi Arabia were deep cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the end of the coronavirus lockdown. Worshippers wore face masks, kept a minimum of two meters apart, brought their own prayer mats and performed the ablution ritual at home.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in His house,” said Abdulrahman, 45, at Al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh, where worshippers had their temperatures checked before entering.

Television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Jerusalem, at 3:30 a.m. thousands crowded outside three gates assigned to be opened to allow Muslims to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque. Young and old, men and women, many with their phone cameras on, chanted religious songs as they waited to return for the first time since the virus lockdown began.

“Those wishing to pray were checked for their temperature and those without a mask were given one by Waqf staff. All were asked to stay a safe distance from each other when they prayed,” Mazen Sinokrot, a member of the Islamic Waqf, told Arab News.

Wasfi Kailani executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque told Arab News that enabling Muslims to pray in large numbers and according to health requirements had gone smoothly.

“People cooperated with the local Muslim authorities and followed the regulations.” The people of Jerusalem had shown a high degree of responsibility, he said.

Israeli police spokesman Miky Rosenfeld told Arab News that extra police units had been  mobilized in the old city of Jerusalem for the reopening of Al-Aqsa. 

“People arrived in the areas scheduled according to health and security guidelines,” he said.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Minister for Jerusalem in the Ismael Haniyeh government in 2006, said people were happy to be able to pray once more at Islam’s third-holiest site.

“It is time to open a new page in cooperation with local institutions and with Jordan to regain all that has been lost over the years,” he told Arab News.

“The Waqf council has done a good job in dealing with the contradictions and pressures that they are under, which is like walking on a knife’s edge as they deal with the occupiers on the one hand and the health situation on the other, while also trying to be responsive to the desires of worshippers.”

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, commercial flights took to the air again, office staff returned to work and restaurants resumed serving diners as life began a gradual return to normal after the coronavirus lockdown.

Eleven of the Kingdom’s 28 airports opened on Sunday for the first time since March 21. “The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowds inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” civil aviation spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.

No one without an e-ticket will be allowed into an airport, face masks must be worn and safe distancing observed, and children under 15 may not travel unaccompanied.