Splitting the Islamists: ISIS’s creeping advance in Libya

Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h write: Since the Islamic State first announced its presence in Libya in late 2014, it has expanded to attack cities across much of the country, ranging from Benghazi in the east to Misrata and Tripoli in the west, and even in the southern deserts. At this point, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya includes thousands of fighters, possibly 3,000 or even 5,000, with many of them being foreign volunteers from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.

Even though some observers tend to portray the rise of the Islamic State in Libya as the result of a ruthless and brilliant strategy, its advance appears to be largely opportunistic, occasioned by the fissures, distraction, and incapacity of rival factions. Where the group senses an opening, it moves, tapping into various kinds of disenchantment to divide opponents and attract potential recruits, whether among disillusioned Islamists, aggrieved tribes, or marginalized minor factions.

While it is hard to speak of a coherent strategy of the Islamic State in Libya, one consistent element of its approach has been to weaken other Islamist groups, in order to present itself as the only viable alternative for Islamists in the country. [Continue reading…]

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