TIME Libya

ISIS-linked Camps in Libya Fan Concerns About Growing Militant Threat

Libya Derna's Islamic Youth Council ISIS
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, which pleged allegiance to the Islamic State, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, Oct. 3, 2014. Stringer—Reuters

With the elected government struggling to enforce its writ in the north African country, a top U.S. general has confirmed the presence of ISIS training camps in eastern Libya

When the commander of U.S. armed forces in Africa confirmed the presence of what he described as training camps linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Libya this week, he threw a spotlight on a growing source of anxiety in the Middle East: namely the erosion of the Libyan state and its consequences for both Libyans and the wider region as militants fill the vacuum.

General David M. Rodriguez’s remarks followed the news earlier this year that a local militant group called the Islamic Youth Shura Council had declared its allegiance to ISIS’s self-proclaimed state in Iraq and Syria. The group operates in eastern Libya, which is where the American general said ISIS had “begun its efforts.”

When asked about the possibility of ISIS also moving into western Libya, Gen. Rodriguez said, “We’re continuing to watch that. But most of it is over in the east right now.” ISIS’s activities in eastern Libya, he added, were “mainly about people coming for training and logistics support right now.” “As for as a huge command-and-control network, I’ve not seen that yet.”

Although Gen. Rodriguez did not name the Shura Council, Issandr El Amrani, the head of the North African Project at the non-profit International Crisis Group, says he understood the remarks as a reference to the group. “That’s the only group we know of that has publicly made such an allegiance.”

Based in the eastern town of Derna, the group emerged as Libyan state institutions unravelled amid the ongoing conflict between the country’s elected government and Islamist militias, who have seized the capital Tripoli and proclaimed their own rival administration. More than three years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s elected representatives have been forced to flee to the small port city of Tobruk.

With pro-government forces focusing on fighting the Islamist militias in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, much of the rest of the country has come under the control of a patchwork of other militias of various sizes and ideologies. In Derna, the Shura Council and other militants have been terrorizing the local population, carrying out at least three summary executions and ten public beatings in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch. In August, the Shura Council is reported to have overseen the public execution of an Egyptian man accused of murder, while more recently, eight men caught drinking alcohol were said to have been publicly flogged in a Derna square in late October.

“The real danger that the international community is concerned about is where does this lead over time?” says El Amrani. “How do places like Derna and the deep south look in five years time? Are these going to be hubs not just for Libyan radicals but for radicals from across the region?”

For now, though, the militants in towns like Derna operate on relatively small scale, according to El Amrani. “Generally speaking, this is people who have a few pickup trucks and guns on them and not much more than that, and there’s such a power vacuum that they’re able to do what they want sometimes,” he says.

There are, as a result, questions about the level of the Shura Council’s control over Derna, which was long a center of political resistance and virtually disregarded under the Gaddafi regime, with no representation in Tripoli. Some observers have also characterized the group’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS as little more than a bid to raise its profile.

But it’s existence serves to underline the growing chaos inside Libya. “It’s very divided on the ground,” adds El Amrani. “The local police force and state authority is so weak that they’re not really able to stop them from coming in and stop them from shooting people and holding executions.”

TIME China

China Tumbles in Annual Corruption Index

Chinese one-hundred yuan banknotes
Jerome Favre—Bloomberg/Getty Images

See where countries rank from most corrupt to least

China fell 20 spots in this year’s corruption rankings, despite President Xi Jinping’s massive campaign to weed out graft that has disciplined more than 60,000 government officials.

Transparency International’s annual study, released late Tuesday, scored 175 countries and territories based on how corrupt experts perceive them to be. The lowest rankings indicate the highest amounts of corruption. China, the world’s second largest economy, placed 100 on the Index, down from 80 in 2013.

“Fast-growing economies whose governments refuse to be transparent and tolerate corruption, create a culture of impunity in which corruption thrives,” José Ugaz, the chair of Transparency International, said in a statement released with the report. Brazil, Russia and India, the other members of the so-called BRIC developing nations, all placed in the lower two-thirds of the rankings.

Denmark held onto first place as the country seen as least corrupt, while recent and current conflict zones represented some of the poorest-faring countries, including Syria (159), Libya (166) and Somalia, which tied North Korea for last place.

Iraq, where the government said on Monday that an internal review had found some 50,000 soldiers were on the payroll but not showing up for duty, placed 170.

Read next: Hong Kong Protest Leaders Attempt to Surrender to Police

TIME Libya

Report: ISIS Takes Control of a Libyan City

An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya on October 3, 2014. Reuters

Derna is just hours from Tobruk, where what's left of the central government is based

Militants loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are now in control of a Libyan city of near the Egyptian border, according to a new report.

CNN, citing unnamed Libyan sources, reports that militants control Derna, a city only a few hours from Tobruk, where the remnants of Libya’s central government fled to after being forced out of the capital this summer. Approximately 300 of the 800-strong force in control of Derna are reportedly hard-line Libyan jihadists who fought with ISIS in Iraq an Syria.

The report is the latest sign of ISIS looking to expand its footprint across the Middle East despite U.S.-led air strikes against it in Iraq and Syria. Libya has been in turmoil since the fall of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011

Read more at CNN

Read next: Terrorism-Related Deaths Up 60% Last Year, Study Says

TIME On Our Radar

Battle-Scarred: Sebastian Junger’s Last Patrol Premieres on HBO

The Last Patrol, Sebastian Junger’s third and final chapter in a trilogy of films about war and its devastating effects on soldiers, came to fruition after he and documentary photographer Tim Hetherington made plans to walk from Washington D.C. to New York City along railroad lines.

The trip would mimic the long patrols both men were accustomed to when covering the war in Afghanistan, on embeds with the U.S. military. The only difference being that they wouldn’t be shot at, wouldn’t have to run for cover, wouldn’t fall into an ambush.

Their trip never came to be. In April 2011, Hetherington was killed in Misrata, Libya, while covering the people’s uprising against their dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

Washington, D.C. Amtrak Guillermo Cervera—HBO

Hetherington’s death shocked an entire industry of journalists and photographers, and convinced some of them to give up on war, Junger included.

This year, Junger went on that “last patrol”, reigniting the plans he had made with his friend and colleague to walk along America’s railways. Accompanied by combat veterans Brendan O’Byrne, who appeared in Junger’s Restrepo, and Dave Roels, as well as Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera, who witnessed Hetherington’s death, he walked from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and to Pittsburgh.

Together, the four men, all war veterans in their own ways, discussed “why combat is so incredibly hard to give up,” they say. The resulting documentary, which chronicles their “last patrol” premieres on Monday, November 10 on HBO.


The Last Patrol by Sebastian Junger is available on HBO and HBO GO from November 10 at PM (CET).

An exhibition of Guillermo Cervera’s images from The Last Patrol and from 20 years of documenting armed conflicts and social issues around the world is on show at Anastasia Photo in New York City.

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a senior photo editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME Libya

Libya Plunges Deeper into Chaos After Parliament Declared Unconstitutional

LIBYA-POLITICS-COURT-UNREST
Libyans wave the national flag as they gather at Martyrs' Square to celebrate the decision of Libya's supreme court, in Tripoli on November 6, 2014. Mahmud Turkia — AFP/Getty Images

The country has largely been in tatters since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime three years ago

Libya’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the nation’s internationally recognized parliament, elected in June, was invalid — dealing another crippling blow to the remnants of the country’s fledgling government, according to the BBC.

The parliament in turn dismissed the court’s ruling — claiming that its verdict was handed down “under the threat of arms,” according to Middle East news outlet al-Arabiya.

The North African nation has been rocked by unceasing bouts of instability since the armed overthrow and murder of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Libya’s government is now located in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, after authorities fled the capital Tripoli earlier this summer to escape an Islamist-led militia.

U.S. officials are considering imposing fresh sanctions on the country’s myriad militias, many of which are backed by competing regional powers, in order to halt the ongoing proxy war in the country, reports Reuters.

[BBC]

TIME Libya

Libyan Officials Urge the Evacuation of Benghazi Port District

LIBYA-UNREST-BENGHAZI
A picture taken on October 22, 2014 in the Libya's eastern coastal city of Benghazi shows smoke billowing from buildings after the Libyan airforce, loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar, pounded the buildings were reported to be used for storing ammunition belonging to Benghazi-based Islamist Ansar al-Sharia group. Fierce fighting have been raging for days in several parts of Libya's second city between pro-government forces led by Haftar and Islamist militias. AFP PHOTO / ABDULLAH DOMA (Photo credit should read ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images) ABDULLAH DOMA—AFP/Getty Images

The Islamist-controlled Assabri district boasts a seaport used for crucial wheat and petrol imports

The Libyan Army is urging the evacuation of a central neighborhood of Benghazi, the country’s second largest city, in preparation for a military offensive against Islamist groups.

“The chief of staff asks all residents of the Assabri district to leave by 12:00 noon [local time on Monday],” Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesman for the chief of staff, told Reuters.

Located in Benghazi’s main commercial zone, the Assabri district boasts a seaport used for crucial wheat and petrol imports. The Ansar al-Sharia militant group fled there after the army seized other areas of the city.

Clashes between the Libyan Army, which is backed by loyalists to a former general, and Islamist groups in the east of the city have killed at least 230 people since the start of a recent army offensive, medical authorities said. In addition, one of the city’s main childbirth hospitals has been evacuated and moved to another location.

In August, an armed group seized the capital Tripoli and forced Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to move east, leaving Libya divided between two governments struggling for overall political control.

In the three years since the ousting of longstanding dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, rival rebel groups that helped achieve his overthrow have been competing for power and control of the nation’s precious oil reserves.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Diversity in recruitment – not residency restrictions – is the best way to build a police force that reflects the community where it works.

By Batya Ungar-Sargon and Andrew Flowers in FiveThirtyEight

2. To save Libya, western powers need to abandon the ‘war on terror’ framework and convince factions there to negotiate.

By Mattia Toaldo in the European Council on Foreign Relations

3. Cricket protein requires 20% fewer resources than beef protein. Are bugs the next big thing?

By Katie Van Syckle in Bloomberg Businessweek

4. China’s fluid definition of terrorism – often changing at the convenience of the country’s leaders – keeps the nation from being an effective partner against ISIS.

By Richard Bernstein, Ely Ratner, Jeffrey Payne, James Palmer, and Fu Hualing in ChinaFile

5. Modern pro sports commissioners are CEOs, not stewards of a public good. Split the commissioner job in two.

By Will Leitch in New York Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME conflict

Gaddafi Before the Gold-Plated Guns

Muammar Gaddafi in 1969
On Nov. 14, 1969, Muammar Gaddafi greets the crowd for the first time since the overthrow of the Libyan monarchy Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

Sept. 1, 1969: Gaddafi Comes to Power in Libya

The son of a nomadic camel herder, Muammar Gaddafi eventually left behind the goatskin tent in the desert where he lived as a child — but he never lost his love of the Bedouin aesthetic. He just embellished it with gold.

This week marks the 45th anniversary of the 27-year-old upstart’s Sept. 1, 1969, bloodless coup against Libya’s King Idris, during which he overthrew the leader, promoted himself to colonel and, as TIME reported a few months into his reign, went from “virtually unknown” to vastly powerful:

Now, while Arab boys hawk his pictures in Tripoli’s Ninth of August Square (named for Libya’s Army Day), Gaddafi leads a campaign to wipe out the graft and privilege that depressed the country during the monarchy. About 600 ranking officers, politicians, civil servants and wealthy businessmen have been jailed. The 25,000 Italians, 7,000 Americans and 5,000 Britons, who previously enjoyed special status in a backward Arab society, are uncertain about their future in Libya.

Libya’s new rulers are stressing their allegiance to the stern precepts of Islam. One of the junta’s first decrees was to outlaw beer and whisky. In Tripoli TIME Correspondent Gavin Scott discovered that “up” and “down” elevator buttons had been covered by tape to obscure the offending English words. All foreign-language street signs were removed. Because the menus must be printed only in Arabic, waiters in hotels must translate aloud the list of dishes to non-Arabic-speaking diners. To their great embarrassment, hotel guests are confusing the Arabic equivalents of “ladies” and “gents.”

Thus began a 42-year reign marked by both violence and vanity. His stated quest to promote Arab unity devolved into obsession and ruthlessness, in 1986, TIME’s Richard Stengel wrote that he “seems hardly to have met a terrorist he didn’t like.” At the same time, he became known for a wardrobe that would put the Real Housewives of New Jersey to shame: silk robes, tailored suits, patent-leather boots, Louis Vuitton shades.

The self-styled “Brother Leader” of Libya developed a dichotomous public persona, torn between lavish excesses and an emphasis on his humble origins. When he traveled, he insisted on staying in a Bedouin tent. The tent, which ABC News once reported was “so heavy it needed to be flown on a separate plane,” was prominently pitched in Paris, Rome, and Moscow; Gaddafi was denied permission to set it up in Central Park, however, while visiting New York for the United Nations General Assembly. The perfumed, climate-controlled tent’s ornate decorations and sheer size kept it from projecting an aura of humility. It had to be big enough to accommodate his entourage, after all, including 30 or 40 members of the Amazonian Guard: a female security force comprising women who swore an oath of chastity and served wearing makeup and high-heeled combat boots.

The despot’s outsized self-image was an easy target when rebel forces led the 2011 uprising that overthrew his government, as TIME reported: a message posted in Tripoli, as the Libyan capital collapsed that year, hit Gaddafi where it hurt, insulting his hair. And his gold-plated pistols? They would fall into rebel hands when he was captured and assassinated.

Read TIME’s original 1969 coverage of the overthrow of King Idris: Libya: Young Men in a Hurry

TIME Libya

Libya Faces the Prospect of Civil War as Regional Powers Choose Sides

A damaged aircraft is pictured after shelling at Tripoli International Airport, Aug. 24, 2014.
A damaged aircraft is pictured on Aug. 24 after shelling at Tripoli International Airport Aimen Elsahli—Reuters

U.S. officials say the UAE and Egypt were behind airstrikes on Islamist militants in Tripoli, raising fears that a regional proxy war inside Libya could worsen as neighboring militaries get involved

Airstrikes don’t usually come with a calling card. After all, the intended targets usually know who their enemies are. But in Libya, a series of fighter jet strikes on Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli’s airport couldn’t have come from their traditional rivals—Libya’s fractious militias may be well armed and powerful, but none have an effective air force. On Monday, unnamed US officials confirmed to media outlets what many Libyans had already feared: the country’s neighbors are starting to choose sides in a conflict that is rapidly descending into civil war.

Sunday’s airstrikes, as well as an earlier attack on Aug. 18, were launched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with assistance from Egypt, U.S. officials told the BBC and the New York Times. Both countries vociferously deny the claims, but to experts and scholars who closely follow regional politics, the denials ring hollow. With radical Islamist forces gaining ground in Libya, says Ronald Bruce St. John, an independent scholar and author of five books on the country, neighboring countries fear for their own stability—particularly in the wake of recent gains in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “It’s not there yet, but if Libya moves to an ISIS-type state, every one of its neighbors will feel threatened.” And not just immediate neighbors. Many countries in the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to the UAE, are threatened by their own internal Islamist uprisings. The fear is that an Islamist success in Libya could inspire stronger movements at home.

Ultimately, the airstrikes were a failure: the Islamist-aligned militia retained control of the airport. But the consequences for Libya, and the region, could be devastating.

From the first days of the uprising against Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s neighbors sought to influence the outcome by supporting different factions within the opposition. Qatar and Turkey, more comfortable with Islamists in general, backed radical militias with weapons and financial support. Others backed tribal militias over ideological ones.

Now that Gaddafi has fallen and a fledgling democratic state has taken his place, those militias are battling for political influence, the country’s vast oil wealth and lucrative smuggling routes. Increasingly, they are backed by their former regional sponsors, who want a say in Libya’s political future, and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure it, says Professor George Joffe, a research fellow specializing in North Africa and the Middle East at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. “The fact that UAE has attacked Tripoli means that in effect the proxy war has become the real war.”

But it is not just a question of Libya’s spoils. The regional power struggle unfolding inside Libya is one part of the post-Arab Spring conflict between secularist autocrats and the Islamist groups that would overthrow them.

The problem is that none of Libya’s militia groups are poised to bring security, establish stability or protect democratic gains. The leader of the principal anti-Islamist militia, former general Khalifa Hifter, attempted to take power by force in May, hardly inspiring confidence in his support for democratic governance. “Much of this is about economics pure and simple: the control of smuggling networks, oil production facilities [and] airports,” notes Frederic Wehrey of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The militias are not necessarily ideologically different but many are mafia-like groups that have allied with key tribes and regions.”

Had militia infighting stayed local, there was always the chance of local resolution, adds Joffe. Military interference by regional actors escalates the tensions and raises the stakes. “No longer do you have a dispute between two militia groups,” says Joffe. “Now you have two states confronting each other indirectly, and they are not going to listen to what locals say about reconciliation, so the real danger is that Libya becomes a open war.” There is widespread agreement that Libya will require some sort of international intervention to solve the internal conflict between militia groups. Now that regional actors are taking sides, resolution will be harder to reach.

TIME Libya

Unidentified Warplanes and Explosions Reported in Libyan Capital

A man fires a weapon during fightings between rival militias around Tripoli international airport, on August 17, 2014.
A man fires a weapon during fightings between rival militias around Tripoli international airport, on August 17, 2014. Mahmud Turkia—AFP/Getty Images

The reports come after the U.N. condemns the “grave escalation” of fighting

Residents of the Libyan capital of Tripoli say that unidentified warplanes were seen overhead on Monday, and several explosions heard, reports Reuters.

A Libyan TV channel claimed the planes were targeting areas that militias have sought to control, however none of the militias are believed to own warplanes Reuters said.

Since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has struggled to contain its armed militias. The past month has seen fighting escalate in Tripoli, particularly near the airport, and in Benghazi, where U.N. and foreign diplomats have been driven out.

On Sunday, the U.N. mission in Libya said in a statement that it condemned the “grave escalation” of fighting in Tripoli.

[Reuters]

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