Libya generally enters the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Last week it was because of the suspected connections between the Manchester bomber, his network, and family. Then, following an attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt the Egyptian air force bombed a jihadist camp in Libya. Looking only slightly further back, when faced with an emerging Syrian civil war the West was wary of intervention due to Libya falling apart after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. In turn, Russia and China were now suspicious of the motives of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States after the UN authorised no-fly zone in Libya transformed immediately into rebel air support.
Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have their affiliates in Libya, although they are small when compared to the forces of the Tobruk led Government, the rival Government of National Accord and other factions. But civil war creates space for jihadist groups to flourish, and sometimes to actually hold territory, and ISIS held the city of Sirte until December of 2016. This was a major loss as Sirte was a potential fallback for ISIS in the event that both Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq were lost. This, clearly, is increasingly only a matter of time and we have covered the consequences for civilians in Sirte and Mosul in earlier blogs.
Despite ISIS’s current status as the predominant Jihadist terror organisation, both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have consistently called for attacks on targets in the West and have accepted allegiances from groups in countries as disparate as the Philippines, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. In fact, wherever the state is struggling and civil war is rampant both Al-Qaeda and ISIS are likely to have established a presence. One reason behind this is the same as that in the West: experienced networking, slick advertising, and the exploitation of the alienated and disenfranchised. Outside of the West there is also the possibility of an income, not to be underestimated when jobs are hard to come by and one’s family is starving.
Failed states then, are incubators for groups that thrive in conflict zones, where state infrastructure and the provision of security are weak. But Libya is also the focal point for the refugee crisis besetting Europe. Here the people smugglers can exploit the finances of the desperate and cram them into unsuitable boats, in the knowledge that the Europeans will rescue them. There would be rightfully be an outcry from within Europe if the rescues ceased, but the question of what to do about refugees has produced a political crisis with the EU. But, which is not simply to blame Libya for its current ill’s, for Libya is as much a victim of any country of events outside of its control.
We are then led to an unpalatable truth that specialists in terrorism warn us off. As ISIS is crushed in its Syrian-Iraqi heartland, its destruction being the one thing that otherwise bitter rivals can agree on, its focus moves to what it calls the ‘far abroad’, and this includes the likes of France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The long standing Al-Qaeda and ISIS call (let us not forget Al-Qaeda) to attack Western targets by any means possible becomes a primary focus as ISIS switches to insurgency in territories it does not hold and terrorism in the West (and Russia it must be said). The consequences of the failed state are visible across Libya, Iraq, Somalia and Syria: devastated cities and starvation, and space for every form of illegal organisation to flourish. The consequences in Europe are attacks in its cities, whether by the network-supported bombing in Manchester, or the internet-influenced amateurs in Westminster or Berlin. The home grown ‘lone attacker’ is proving to be a myth, the true difference is in how much support was through the internet, and how much was through a network. One thing that is certain is that the only thing preventing and stopping future attacks is a combined policy of integration, prevention and de-radicalization, and strong counter-terrorist measures that target the people responsible for the attacks and not the wider community that they inhabit and then betray.
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Dr Carl Turner,