Overview: U.S. counterterrorism policy in Libya is focused on degrading ISIS and other terrorist groups and reducing the threat they pose to U.S. interests in North Africa and Europe. In 2016, Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA)-aligned forces demonstrated that it could be a capable partner with the United States in the fight against ISIS. The GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj, requested U.S. air support into the fight against ISIS and cooperated consistently and productively with international counterterrorism efforts. In January, U.S. strikes removed two ISIS camps and a foreign terrorist fighter facilitator in Libya’s west. Libya’s greatest counterterrorism success during the year was the removal of ISIS from its Libyan stronghold in Sirte, a key U.S. objective accomplished in close cooperation with U.S. Africa Command’s Operation Odyssey Lighting campaign. GNA-affiliated forces seized the last group of buildings held by ISIS in Sirte in December, removing ISIS from its operational stronghold and temporarily disrupting its long-term ability to conduct and support regional operations in North Africa, the Sahel, and Europe. GNA reports suggested that more than 700 fighters from GNA-aligned forces were killed and 3,200 were wounded during the seven‑month-long campaign against ISIS. Although up to 1,700 ISIS militants’ bodies were recovered in Sirte, many members of the terrorist organization are thought to have escaped into the vast desert in Libya’s west and south, while others may have fled abroad or into neighboring urban centers.
While Sirte was ISIS’s center of governance in Libya, concentrations of its fighters were also reported in Darnah and Benghazi during the year. Many fighters in those cities were driven out by year’s end, mostly as a result of clashes with the “Libyan National Army” (LNA). ISIS fighters fleeing from Sirte may have escaped to remote desert camps, especially near Sabha and Bani Walid, but some reports indicated that others fled towards Darnah and other urban centers in Libya.
Other terrorist organizations, including Ansar al-Shari’a-Benghazi (AAS-B), Ansar al-Shari’a Darnah (AAS-D), and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), retained a presence in Libya in 2016. These groups continued to take advantage of the absence of effective governance in many parts of the country, although the LNA has significantly degraded their capabilities in some areas.
AQIM’s priorities are in southern Libya where it has connections with local authorities and militias, to which it provides financial and personnel support.
2016 Terrorist Incidents: The following list of terrorist incidents is designed to highlight major attacks believed to be perpetuated by terrorist groups against Western, Libyan government, and civil society targets. The list of incidents below is not exhaustive or comprehensive, some of the incidents have no claims of responsibility, and it does not include the numerous acts of violence perpetrated by armed militias and other parties to the conflict in Tripoli and other cities.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Libya lacks a comprehensive counterterrorism law, although the Libyan penal code (under Title 2, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 170 and Title 2, Chapter 2, Article 207) criminalizes offenses prejudicial to state security, including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts. In 2013, the General National Congress (GNC) – at that time Libya’s official government – adopted laws no. 27 and 53 outlining a plan to disband non-state militias and integrate them into state security forces; however, neither law was implemented. Libya has ratified the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws.
The GNA, despite internal conflict, proved capable of confronting the terrorist threat in Sirte, requested assistance from the United States, and joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; however, neither the internationally recognized Tripoli-based GNA nor the legislative House of Representatives in Tobruk produced a strategy to counter the terrorist threat. The Libyan government did not pass any new legislation to confront the growing threat of terrorism throughout the country.
Due mainly to the internal political conflict and the role of numerous militias, Libyan law enforcement personnel lacked the capacity to detect, deter, respond to, or investigate terrorist incidents. There were no reported terrorism-related prosecutions in 2016. In most parts of Libya, security and law enforcement functions were provided by armed militias rather than state institutions. National police and security forces were fragmented, inadequately trained and equipped, and lacked clear reporting chains and coordination mechanisms. Security and law enforcement officials, including prosecutors and judges, were targeted in kidnappings and assassinations, resulting in the continued suspension of court operations in Benghazi and Darnah. Libya’s military was similarly weak and fragmented, with units often breaking down along local, tribal, or factional lines. Counterterrorism operations conducted by Libyan Special Operations Forces have so far failed to significantly reduce the level of terrorist violence, bombings, assassinations, or kidnappings.
The GNA lacked a comprehensive border management strategy and was unable to secure the country’s thousands of miles of land and maritime borders, enabling the illicit flow of goods, weapons, antiquities, narcotics, migrants, and foreign terrorist fighters that posed serious security challenges to the region. Libyan border security forces were generally poorly trained and underequipped and frequently participated in illicit cross-border trade. Border security infrastructure damaged and looted during the 2011 revolution has not been repaired or replaced, and the ongoing conflict has affected border security infrastructure along Libya’s border with Tunisia. Security at Libya’s airports was minimal with limited document screening and no utilization of passenger name record systems or biometric technology. Libya also lacked the resources, manpower, and training to conduct sufficient maritime patrols to interdict or deter illicit maritime trafficking and irregular migration.
According to the International Organization of Migration, 181,436 arrivals were recorded by sea in 2016 to Italy through the central Mediterranean route, mainly transiting from Libya to Italy. A total of 18,904 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast and 4,576 died. The majority of the migrants used the porous southern borders of Libya to traverse from sub-Saharan African countries and embark on boats along the Libyan shores. Existing legislation outlining the responsibilities of various government agencies in the area of border management is vague and often contradictory, resulting in ad hoc and poorly coordinated efforts.
The European Union (EU) Border Assistance Mission to Libya is mandated to plan for a possible future EU mission providing advice and capacity building in the areas of criminal justice, migration, border security, and counterterrorism at the request of the Libyan authorities. The mission is located in Tunis and has maintained contact with the relevant Libyan authorities.
Libya has expressed the desire to cooperate in the investigation of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests, including the September 2012 killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens at U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, although Libyan capacity to provide support in this regard has been limited. In 2013, the Libyan Ministry of Justice signed a Declaration of Intent to facilitate law enforcement cooperation with the United States on investigations, including that of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body, and also the Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Libya has implemented a national identification database system to improve transparency in government salary payments; however, there is little reliable data on Libya’s anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) efforts.
While the Libyan government and financial institutions generally lack the ability to identify and interdict illicit financial flows, the Central Bank and the financial intelligence unit (FIU) has made critical strides to build its AML/CFT capacity. In 2016, the Central Bank issued Customer Due Diligence regulations for Libyan financial institutions. Libya does not currently have a CFT law and lacks the ability to freeze the assets of UN-designated individuals, per its obligations under the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, but has drafted a comprehensive AML/CFT law and expects to enact the law in 2017. In addition, the Libyan government has operationalized its FIU and reorganized its structure to prioritize AML and CFT.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: After increased armed civil conflict in July 2014, nearly all diplomatic missions in Libya, including the UN Support Mission in Libya, withdrew from the country. In 2016, there were few foreign diplomats present in Tripoli on a permanent basis, although several European countries’ diplomats began to visit Tripoli and other parts of Libya more frequently after the GNA’s March 2016 seating in the capital. The political conflict and lack of an international presence in Libya severely limited regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism activities. Most bilateral engagement programs, which previously sought to increase the capacity of Libya’s law enforcement and defense institutions, have been on hold since 2014.
Countering Violent Extremism: Libya has not adopted a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism. Continuing online threats, kidnappings, and assassinations of activists who speak out against violent extremists contributes to a culture of intimidation and self-censorship.