Western reports on IS extension in Libya trigger North African security meetings
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag - REUTERS

CAIRO: Egyptian, Algerian and Tunisian security and intelligence officers convened late last week to coordinate efforts countering security threats after Western security reports signaled an imminent expansion of the Islamic State (IS) into Libya, especially after Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) recently announced its support to IS, El-Khabar newspaper reported.

Under Libya’s lack of a strong central state, the oil-rich country has been a source of instability to its neighboring countries; making it a soil ready to grow and receive extremists from IS, formerly an insular group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS.)

“We have received reports indicating that Libyan and Tunisian jihadists are returning to their home countries to create branches of ISIS in North Africa,” an Algerian security source told El-Khabar.

Since the killing of late Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi in October 2011, Libya has descended into a security vacuum, and has become a large arms depot for criminals and extremists. It is widely believed that violence in Egypt’s Sinai was perpetrated by Libyan weapons.

A large number of Egyptian workers in Libya, estimated in the hundreds of thousands, have fled to their home country, and its limping economy, due to security issues.

Arab governments consolidate efforts despite differences

A senior security source told the Algerian newspaper that Qatar is employing “its influence over Salafi Jihadists in Libya” to mobilize them against IS, adding that Qatari intelligence officers already visited Algerian two days ago and will follow it with visits to Tunisia and Libya.

The coordinated efforts come from countries that have strained relations; Egypt has been at odds with Qatar and Tunisia since the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

“Egypt works on controlling its borders with Libya from within the Egyptian territory, rather than dispatching forces inside Libya,” strategic expert Ahmed Abdel Hamid told Youm7 Monday.

Egypt is coordinating with Algeria and other African countries as well as Jordan and Gulf countries to unite the Arab and African stance against extremist threats, Abdel Hamid said.

President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s former minister of defense, made his first foreign visit as president to Algeria last month. He met with Algerian President Abdul-Aziz Boutafliqa and several senior officials in a “quantum leap” towards strategic relations between the two countries, as stated by Egyptian presidential spokesperson Ehab Badawy.

“Libya is highly prone to secession into three states; Benghazi, Tripoli and Fezzan, and the Egyptian government is completely opposed to such scheme,” strategic expert Tala’at Moussa told Youm7 Monday.

Moussa also said that different forces battle in Libya, including “Gadhafi militias” and gangs, all the while the Libyan government stands “helpless” amid the “flow of arms” within its territory.

Sisi said in a Sunday meeting with local journalists that the independence of Iraq’s Kurdistan would lead to “catastrophic breakup” of the country already suffering IS’s insurgency.

IS more appealing than Al-Qaeda to jihadists in North Africa?

“After silence on the part of those concerned, we decided to show our stance, ISIS’s jihadists know that we have not and will not let them down,” Al-Khabar quoted AQIM’s leader Abu Abdullah Othman al-Asemi as saying in a video late June.

His statement implies that there has been no communication between AQIM and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda’s central.

Although neither IS nor Al-Qaeda has declared a stance on their perceived “rivalry,” except when Al-Qaeda distanced itself from ISIS in February, Al-Khabar reported that the majority of jihadists in the Grand Maghreb have become supporters of IS, but a large number of them still bid their loyalty to Al-Qaeda.

This division reinforced fears of internal fighting in Libya between pro-Al-Qaeda and pro-IS jihadists, especially that the founding of IS in Libya is a “matter of time,” an Algerian security source told Al-Khabar.

IS has been heavily using social media platforms to promote itself and appeal to youth. IS members of different nationalities, Arab accents and even languages such as English and French have addressed youth from Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, the Arabian Gulf, France and other countries.

The videos promise an Islamic state in which Muslims will enjoy “all their rights,” and feature emotional, patriotic chants and anthems of a “glorious Islamic state.” IS has already appointed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliphate.

Although Al-Qaeda shares the same aim (an Islamic state), IS seems to have accomplished more than Al-Qaeda towards that goal.

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