Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant`s Branch in Libya (ISIL-Libya)

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Running header: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant`s Branch in Libya (ISIL-Libya) 1

The Libyan civil war of 2011 created a security turmoil to a onceeconomic powerhouse in North Africa. The ousting of Muammar Gaddafiand his government paved the way to rampant lawlessness andinsecurity. However, as Gazzini and El-Amrani (2015) note, Libya wasfragmented between a parliament that was elected in June 2014 andoperating from Tobruk and the former government operating from theLibyan capital of Tripoli. Ideally, each government had an army withthe former being the Libyan national army and the latter Libyan Dawn.Thus, a fog of war between the two sides cultivated the riseISIL-Libya. As the governments tried to outdo the other, the powervacuum was filled by Islamic Youth Shura Council, which aligned withISIS.

Pensively, this was fuelled by the presence of numerous rebelfighters who were heavily armed with weapons and military techniquesobtained during the civil war. As a result, during the Syrian civilwar of 2012, these rebels joined fellow militants in Syria believingthey shared the same ideology and aspirations. While in Syria, Libyanfighters in combat alongside ISIS formed the Batter brigade. Uponreturning to Libya in 2014, a faction known as the Islamic YouthShura Council was created in Derna. This foresaw the recruitment oflocal militia groups such as the Ansar al-Sharia wing in Derna thusofficially introducing ISIS ideologies and influence to Libya.

ISIL-Libya aligns to the belief of Salafist jihadism. In this line ofbelief, violence and terrorism are justified as long as one of on thequest for political objectiveness. As Zelin (2015) describes, theSalafist movement has three divisions with the largest being thosewho alienate politics purist, the activist they get involved inpolitics and the jihadist. Concurrently, French (2016) notes thatjihads respect the sacred texts in the most literal form thus rejectall innovation in Islam. They also believe they have the role ofdefending all Muslim community from external non-Muslims perceivedthreats (French, 2016). The Salafi-jihadist of Libya had theobjective of pursuing a system collapse strategy hence installing anIslamic state based on sharia law and Sunni dominance in Libya.

In 2014, they gained more recognition and respect in the eastern portcity of Libya mainly by eliminating any resistance of their ideologyand the local militia groups who disassociated with them. Their mainaim was to ensure that all Libya eventually abides by Sharia Law,this supports the Salafist jihadist ideology. The ISIS leadership inIraq lead by Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi sent their representatives toDerna organize and facilitate the running of ISIL-Libya and thusrecognizing Libya as three states namely Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, andFezzan. These states were to run under the Sunni Muslim laws andregulations and were to operate as states loyal to the ISIL.

Consequently, towards the end of 2014, the group grew in numbers aslocal militia groups of the local tribes pledged allegiance. Thegroup aimed at attacking oil installations, international hotels andperformed mass execution of those believed to be resistance. This wasa move aimed at creating awareness of the growing population of thegroup in Libya. The ISIL militias in the south of Libya carried outmilitary operations as the Islamic Youth Shura Council attempted totake over further Libyan territory.

Post-war Sirte was at despair when the ISIL arrived in the city. Itwas then under the control of Ansar al-Sharia militia who pledgedtheir allegiance to ISIL upon their arrival in 2015. The group gainedfull control of the city in June 2015 and established their own ruleof law with strict Islamic dressing codes being implemented alongsideharsh punishments. The group ensured that the black standard flag wasflying on government buildings and even police cars. In addition, thegroup enforced their ideology into the way of life of the people ofSirte. ISIL termed Sirte as its caliphate and seized control ofimportant infrastructure like power plants, the air base. After beingdriven out of Derna by the Shura Council of Mujahedeen alongside theLibyan air force, an estimated 800 fighters moved to Sirte thusaffirm its grip on the city.

It is through the city of Sirte that the ISIL expressed theirstrictness on Sharia law. Through media platforms, the group spreadits agenda and propaganda with the aim of popularizing their belief.They introduced changes to the education sector such as gendersegregation whereby male and female students were not to learntogether and the removal of history and geography from thecurriculum. This immense growth attracted the attention of the USarmy, NATO and the UN Security Council as ISIL-Libya was using Sirteas the base of operations. They also planned and coordinated attacksin North Africa and Europe from Sirte. The group flourished inpropagating propaganda thus attracted foreign fighters from NorthAfrica and sympathizers all over Libya.

The extensive growth of ISIL-Libya in 2015 highly suggested thesuccess of ISIL outside their homesteads Syria and Iraq. However,well-established Libyan militia groups outside Sirte and its environsdid not support this growth thus eliminating the option of the groupgaining more Libyan territory. The leadership of the ISIL-Libyathrough Abu Nabil al-Anbari was stern mainly on the fighters as thegroup tried to expand its territory. Through their trainingfacilities in Jebel Akhdar region, many foreign African fighters weretrained, radicalized and equipped ready to fight for the group’sprimary goal (Paul, Robertson, Lister and Jomana 2014).

The ISIL structure in Libya is much alike to the parent group. Thecommand structure is top-down (Zelin, 2015). The structure createsroom for recruiters who play the role of selling its propaganda andtransferring new members to training posts. The military techniqueof the group is mainly centered on the element of surprise thus thehigh use of handmade explosives for car bombs. In Libya, most of theweaponry used were stolen or taken from the stocks of ousted Gaddafi.These weapons range from assault rifles to heavy weaponry such astanks. Mainly, the Libyan group acquired their weapons from the blackmarket and raids in police stations and an air base. The use ofchemical weapons obtained from Gaddafi’s stocks was alsoinevitable, as most militias did not know how to discharge the gas.However, the situation of Libya made it easy for ISIL to acquireweapons and labor.

As Zaptia (2016) reports the group obtained funds mainly fromlooting, taxes, smuggling, corruption and coerced donations. Thesefunds were mainly used to pay soldiers and administer the territory.Therefore, a flow of funds meant the group was in good shape and ableto defend itself and launch more attacks. Thus implying that thesuccess of ISIL-Libya was tied down to gaining more territory to taxand plunder. As Roslington and Pack (2016) report, the Libyan branchwas set up with capital from the parent group ISIS. Additionally,loot acquired in 2013 by the group is said to be worth $ 55millionfrom the central bank of Sirte. These funds irrigated the growth ofthe group in the region in the period of two years. However,ISIL-Libya failed to secure oilfields in the country. By doing so,the group would have been able to simulate the financial stability ofthe parent group thus extending its existence in the North Africanstate. Thus, when the taxes and loot became obsolete in itsterritory, a financial disaster loomed hence undermining the strengthand effectiveness of the group.

In December 2016, the city of Sirte was cleared of ISIL forces bythe Libyan forces with the assistance of US air strikes. The eventualend of the territorial rule was a result of zero funding as mosttaxpaying residents of Sirte fled and the group failed to expand itsmoney raising activities such as drugs and antique trafficking. Asthe Roslighton and Pack (2016) report had predicted, the defeat ofISIL in Sirte would be because of self-weakness rather than properfighting.


The location and situation of Libya were tactically vital for ISIL,in view of its geographical position at the intersection of theMiddle East, Africa, and Europe. After the civil war, Libya was in adevastating state and each city struggled to pick the momentumeconomically and politically. The ISIL found the perfect loophole inthe security situation and utilized it to their level best. However,lack of proper funds to facilitate their course led to theirterritorial failure. The current ISIL in Libya is out of jibber andstruggling to pull off attacks due to poor funding. The war againstISIS-Libya is in its final stages.


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French,P. (2016) What do Islamist extremists believe? Review, retrieved on17/03/2017

Gazzini,C. &amp El Amrani, I. (2015) Libyans don`t need more weapons,Retrieved on 17/03/2017

Roslington,J. &amp Pack, J. (2015) Who pays for ISIS in Libya? Retrieved on17/03/2017

Zaptia,S. (2016) Who pays for ISIS in Libya, Retrieved on 17/03/2017

ZelinA. Y. (2015) The Islamic State’s model, Retrieved on 17/03/2017