Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h write: Recent attacks in Libya by the so-called Islamic State, including the brutal slaughter of Egyptian Copts, the Corinthia Hotel attacks, car bombings in Qubbah that killed at least 45 people, and an attack on the Iranian embassy, have brought the spread of extremism in Libya to the forefront. While the Islamic State has intensified its activity in recent weeks, its spread into Libya began early in 2014 as Libyan jihadists began to return from Syria.
Jihadi groups in Libya were already deeply fragmented and localized, but the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2013 and 2014 sparked new debates, eventually dividing the Libyan jihadis between supporters of the Islamic State and supporters of al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates—mainly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North Africa and the Nusra Front in Syria.
Libyans had already begun traveling to fight in Syria in 2011, joining existing jihadi factions or starting their own. In 2012, one group of Libyans in Syria declared the establishment of the Battar Brigade in a statement laden with anti-Shia sectarianism. The Battar Brigade founders also thanked “the citizens of Derna,” a city in northeastern Libya long known as a hotbed of radical Islamism, for their support for the struggle in Syria. [Continue reading…]