Thursday, February 26, 2015

Short: Why is Libya Important to the Islamic State?

Reader Nathan asked if I would make a Libya post and then, helpfully, gave me some truly awesome source information. Thanks, Nathan!

The big question here is: why ISIS is putting so much effort into expanding into Libya when it's losing ground in Iraq and having mixed success in Syria? (To elaborate a bit: ISIS does need to put recruiting, training, and physical resources into Libya, and foreign Jihadis going to Libya aren't going to Iraq/Syria to reinforce there, so it's definitely an investment.)

The article starts with a translation of an ISIS strategy document, which outlines to ISIS and fellow Islamic extremist groups the motivations for going to Libya.

I'll briefly sum up the main points below, but the key takeaway is that ISIS isn't looking to Libya primarily or urgently for attacks in Italy. Despite its apocalyptic machinations, ISIS' first priority is to actually establish the Caliphate: to them, that includes a very ambitious plan that is way bigger than the previous Caliphate of the dark/middle ages.

Adding to this of course are the gains that the Ottomans made in the 1200s-1400s that included areas in India, the rest of Turkey, the known Muslim areas in northern Africa, and some of the Balkans. IS wants all of this stuff and, for whatever reason, all of India. Why IS would want to rule India is not yet clear to me.

The summary of the strategic document, in short:

  • The Islamic State really does want to cover all of the Muslim World
  • Libya is a window of opportunity: the strength of militants, rise of Jihadi groups, and government division mean that IS can establish a foothold there
  • It's under less pressure than Iraq and is a pretty free operating space for regional operations (where IS is on the defensive in Iraq and still under lots of bombing/Kurdish pressure in Syria)
  • It has access to nearby states that IS wants to spread to, many of which have potential allies (particularly Niger, Mail, and Algeria)
  • It has access to battle-hardened recruits in Libya, Algeria, and Sudan [added after post]
  • Indeed it does have access to Southern Europe--there are human trafficking operations that could more easily move militants to Italy and elsewhere for expanded terror operations--probably "some 20 militants shooting up Rome for a few hours" kind of mayhem
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