North Africa Theater
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."
A court in Tripoli sentenced Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, and eight others to death for war crimes dating back to the 2011 revolution. Twenty-three other defendants were handed sentences ranging from five years to life in prison. The sentence for Saif al-Islam was handed down in absentia, as he is currently detained by a militia in the city of Zintan. Saif al-Islam and others were accused of suppressing peaceful protests, inciting violence, and murdering protesters. The sentences have been criticized by many international advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, which stated the trial was "undermined by serious due process violations" and failed to deliver justice.
Tunisia's parliament on July 25 voted to approve a new anti-terror law despite strong criticism from NGOs and human rights groups. The law, which replaces 2003 legislation passed under the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was adopted following a June attack in Sousse and a March attack on Tunisia's national museum, both claimed by the Islamic State. The adoption of the law came after three days of parliamentary debate and a vote of 174-0 with 10 abstentions. Though the law has been hailed by some as a great step towards making the country safer, Human Rights Watch claims that it will "open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers and curtail lawyers' ability to provide an effective defense." Part of the concern for the bill, advocacy groups say, comes from the law's vague definition of terrorist crimes and its failure to provide enough protection for the rights of defendants. Leftist opposition members also contend that the law does not distinguish between acts of terror and protests.
Warring parties in Libya signed a preliminary UN-sponsored agreement on July 11, agreeing to form a unity government and cease fighting. However, one of the main parties, based in Tripoli [the General National Congress and its allied Libya Dawn militia], refused to sign the deal. Under the Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, the country will get a one-year government of "national accord" with one prime minister and two deputies. The government would also include a house of representatives. The parties have not agreed on more specific details. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced encouragement after the agreement was signed, stating that he is looking forward to the "speedy conclusion of the full agreement and its implementation."
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on July 8 issued an emergency plan to combat ethnic-driven civil unrest in the southern city of Ghardaia. It is reported that 22 people have died due to violence by rival gangs in the region this week. The plan issued by President Bouteflika places the 4th Military Region commander in charge of local authorities to oversee "the restoration and preservation of public order throughout the province of Ghardaia." Unrest in the region [pitting Arabs against Berbers] has been a reoccurring issue over the past years.
The ISIS franchise in Libya, the self-declared "Islamic State in Cyrenaica," was largely driven from the eastern city of Derna last week, although fighting continues in one neighborhood that remains under ISIS control. The offensive against ISIS is apparently being led by the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, linked to the local Mujahedeen Shura Council, one of the more radical elements in the Libyan Dawn coalition. Confusingly, one of the militias allied with with the Abu Salim brigade is named as Ansar al-Sharia, which had previously been described as an ISIS affiliate. The fighting erupted on June 9 after ISIS militants assassinated Nasser Aker (also rendered Nasir Atiyah al-Akar), a senior figure in the Shura Council. The battle seems to represent a struggle between jihadists loyal to ISIS and al-Qaeda. In any case, it represents a jihadist enclave opening in Libya's east, heretofore under control of the secular-leaning "official" government now based in Tobruk, the next major town to the east of Derna. (See map) (AFP, June 21; IBT, June 15; Long War Journal, June 14)
US warplanes on June 14 carried out air-strikes on a farm outside Ajdabiya, Libya, killing several leading members of the Ansar al-Sharia militant network. Among those reported killed is Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar AKA "Khaled Abou El Abbas" or "Laaouar," former leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Details of the attack were reported by authorities of Libya's "official" government in Tobruk, who said they had been consulted before the raid. Washington only confirmed a raid against a "mid-level al-Qaeda operative in Libya," without giving any names or exact location. After the air-strikes, there was apparently an attempt to bring the wounded into town for treatment at the hospital, but it was met with stiff resistance both from local reaidents and troops from the Libya army's 151 Battalion. The targeted farm reportedly served as a base for a mixed force of jihadists from Ansar al-Sharia, ISIS and the Ajdabiya Shura Council. (Libya Herald, AFP, June 14)
For months, Libya has been divided between the Islamist-led Libyan Dawn coalition that controls Tripoli and the west, and the more secular "official" government now exiled to Tobruk in the east. But with ISIS seizing territory, it is now turning into a three-sided war. Heavy fighting is reported as the "official" Libyan National Army's Brigade 309 has launched an offensive to take the port of Mreisa from ISIS fighters. (Libya Herald, June 13) Meanwhile, the Majlis al-Shura militia, aligned with the Libyan Dawn movement, is fighting ISIS for control of Derna. One June 13, a presumed ISIS suicide bomber killed three when he blew himself up on a Derna street. (Reuters, June 13) The day before, seven Derna residents were shot dead when militants fired on a protest against the ISIS occupation of the city. (Reuters, June 12)