The fact that the perpetrator of the Manchester bombing, Salman Abedi, may have been part of a Daesh network in Libya has focused attention on the group outside of its main territories in Iraq and Syria. Daesh is known to have groups allied to it across the Middle East, Africa and Asia but in recent years their strength has grown in Libya.
The fall of Gaddafi lead to a series of fractured and splintered militias and rival governments fighting for control. The roots of Daesh in Libya lie with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formed in the 1990s from remnants of the mujahideen who fought the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. That group fought against Gaddafi, with the possible backing of MI6; hundreds of its fighters were imprisoned by the Libyan government in that time. Fundraising for the group was undertaken by exiled Libyans across the world including in Britain where a “charitable” front organisation was raided and closed down in 2006.
In 2007, following an offensive by Al Qaeda to bolster its links to groups across the Middle East, the Islamic Fighting Group formally affiliated. The Islamist movement is fractured in Libya and Daesh have managed to establish formal affiliation from a number of branches of different groups in 2014.
As with their campaigns in Iraq and Syria, Daesh have come into conflict with Al Qaeda affiliates in Libya including Ansar al-Shariya (ASL), which was one of the groups responsible for the attack on the Benghazi US consulate. ASL has now dissolved and encouraged the militias and shoras in Benghazi to unite, Daesh in Libya appears to have had a resurgence. Daesh could draw on areas with an Islamist background like Derna where ASL have been at their strongest.
Many militants in ASL in Derna went over to Daesh, and this influenced other groups across eastern and central Libya to do the same. They were boosted by returned fighters from Syria. In 2014 Daesh asked recruiters to stop sending new members from Libya to Syria or Iraq and told them to concentrate on attacks within their own country. Now driven out, they at one time controlled the city of Sirte and took over almost 250 km of coastline around the city.
Early on many of its leaders were Saudi or Tunisian, but there has been a concerted effort to get Libyans into leadership roles. While they controlled Sirte they aped the actions of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, registering and taxing local businesses and taking over public offices and services. Smoking was banned, barber shops closed, women were made to wear long black robes, and boys were recruited to fight. Residents accused of spying or opposing Daesh were shot dead, their bodies put on public display for several days.
Attacks on Coptic Christians
Twenty-nine people were killed on Friday 26 May in the latest attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Gunmen flagged down a bus convoy carrying people making a pilgrimage to a monastery in south Egypt. Claiming to be security service, the men ordered people off the bus, separated men from women and children and instructed the men to recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. When the men refused the gunmen opened fire.
Coptic Christians have faced an increasing level of sectarian violence in Egypt, mainly involving church bombings. This attack has been described by the Coptic community as reaching a new level of savagery. This attack has been claimed by Daesh; it is the fourth such attack to have been claimed by Daesh since December.
The Egyptian government imposed a state of emergency after a bombing on Palm Sunday which left 45 dead, but Christians have said that the state of emergency is doing little to protect them. Since 26 May Egypt has launched air strikes against reported terrorist camps in Libya.
New Daesh group in Philippines
The city of Marawi in the Philippines remains under siege from the Maute group, which is now a part of Daesh. More than 90% of Marawi’s 200,000 population have left as fighting in the street and government aerial strikes increase.
Maute rebels are one of several factions active in Mindanao, an island state of the Philippines with a population of 22 million. President Duterte has imposed martial law and given his assurances that troops will be protected even if they commit war crimes including rape during the conflict.
This bout of fighting was triggered by the army’s attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, previously the leader of the Al Qaeda backed Abu Sayyaf group. He has brought together AS alongside the Maute, who were mostly a criminal network into the newest Daesh group in the region.