ISIS, growing stronger in Libya, sets its sights on fragile neighbor Tunisia

The Washington Post reports: The families arrived at the cemetery in the night carrying the bullet-riddled corpses of their sons and brothers, residents recalled. One by one, the bodies were placed in unmarked graves, outcasts even in death.

The dead men had been fighters for the Islamic State. All Tunisians, they had crossed into Libya to join the terrorist group’s affiliate there. In March, they returned with other radicalized Tunisians in an attempt to seize Ben Guerdane, a smuggling hub 20 miles from the border. Dozens of the militants were killed in fierce clashes with security forces, including at least 10 who were raised here in the southeastern corner of the country.

Only eight were buried in the cemetery.

“Some families refused to take the bodies,” said Samir Naqi, a senior police official.

That Ben Guerdane, long known as an incubator for jihadists, was not captured was a victory for Tunisia. But the attack and its aftermath revealed the North African nation’s fragility as it struggles to contain the toxic fallout from the Arab Spring uprisings five years ago, and represented an escalation in the Islamic State’s ambitions.

Tunisians form the largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. But with U.S. and Russian airstrikes hammering them there, and travel bans and stricter border controls in place, more Tunisians are joining the Islamic State in Libya. Increasingly, Libya’s conflict is spilling into Tunisia, the only country to emerge as a functioning democracy after the revolutions. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Leading foreign ministers from Europe and the Middle East are to meet in Vienna on Monday under the joint chairmanship of the US and Italy to discuss how to bolster support for the UN-backed Libyan government in the face of deepening splits in the country over political legitimacy, oil resources and Islamic State.

Elaborate plans to send thousands of Italian-led troops to the area are either on hold, or have been abandoned. But the west is still desperate to find ways to strengthen the political authority of the Tripoli-based government since it will help create a single military Libyan force able both to defeat Isis and tighten the control of refugees leaving the lawless coastland for Italy.

Special forces from the US, UK, France and Italy are operating in various parts of Libya, sometimes backing different military forces and hindering efforts to reunite Libyan politics behind the UN government of Fayez al-Sarraj. [Continue reading…]

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