In partnership with allies in western Libya, including supporters of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, the BDB, which the pro-Haftar eastern government accuses of jihadist sympathies, conducted multiple attacks on the LNA in central and southern Libya as part of its effort to return east.
On 20 May , it participated in an attack on an LNA-controlled airbase at Brak Shati, in the south, in which over 80 persons were killed, including civilians.
Crisis Group interview, Mohammed Dayri, foreign minister of the interim government based in al-Bayda, Brussels, February In the centre of the country, a coalition of militias mostly from Misrata led Operation Bunyan Marsous to liberate Sirte. Western officials, especially from the U. Crisis Group interview, U. Hide Footnote While both the Dignity and Bunyan Marsous forces combatted ISIS in part because they felt directly threatened by the group, gaining international support was a critical motivation too: each side presented itself as a privileged counter-terrorism partner.
Bunyan Marsous — which lasted from June to December — succeeded at great cost to the forces involved: fighters died and over 4, were wounded. Casualties mostly were from Misrata, whose units conducted most of the ground fighting. Hide Footnote U. Half of the Bunyan Marsous fighters who died were killed by IEDs and suicide attacks that caused deaths at a time. Crisis Group interview, Misratan brigade commander, Misrata, October How sustainable is the situation in Sirte is another question.
Misrata is not building a state. Crisis Group interview, member of Sirte local council and Sirte crisis committee, Misrata, October Hide Footnote the Misratan forces that took part in Bunyan Marsous also are being drawn elsewhere and they themselves are divided in their loyalties; [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Bunyan Marsous commanders and officials, October March Prior to Operation Bunyan Marsous, an estimated 6, ISIS members were thought to be in the Sirte area, half of them fighters and the other half in charge of logistics.
Yet less than 2, of its members are estimated to have been killed, suggesting that either these estimates were inflated or many managed to escape. At the time, only bodies were expected to be processed. Many sub-Saharan African members likely were mercenaries; in this respect ISIS is no different than many Libyan militias in making generous use of hired guns. Among those who escaped, many are believed to still be in Libya, moving in small groups and concentrating in the desert south-west of Sirte, near towns that also were Qadhafist strongholds such as Bani Walid, near Uweinat in the south east, and in Sabratha in the west, as well as across the south.
Hide Footnote Some foreigners have headed toward their country of origin. This is very worrying for the Tunisians and Algerians. The Sudanese went back toward Sudan. Crisis Group interview, senior European intelligence official, location withheld, May Crisis Group interview, army officer, Sebha, March The assessment of a senior European intelligence official concurs with this view:. The Libyans have melted into the background, into their communities and are laying low. We were surprised to have only picked up signs of very small numbers headed toward Niger and Mali.
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And they have no particular attachment to Malian causes and rivals in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who might not welcome them. The regional context was defined by two developments that resonated strongly in the country: on the one hand, the rise of ISIS and its violent, revolutionary message; on the other, Islamist-secular polarisation and — in the jihadist narrative — failure of the strategy of pragmatic Islamists to participate in electoral politics, as demonstrated by the July coup against the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt.
Videos produced by ISIS as well as al-Qaeda aligned jihadist groups such as Oqba Ibn Nafa Brigade, operating in the west of the country and composed in part of the more hard-line elements of Ansar Sharia in make this clear, condemning Essebsi as an agent of Western interests and An-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi as an infidel. They advocated violent overthrow of the democratic institutions put in place since and challenged the consensus being crafted by political elites. Crisis Group interview, researcher, Tunis, February Building on a theme pioneered by Ansar Sharia, ISIS emphasised feelings of injustice shared by large spans of the population — particularly those from marginalised regions and poor urban peripheries that most often encounter state brutality, corruption and social exclusion.
Hide Footnote It frequently cited cases of police abuse — especially of Islamists and their families — as well as of the ill-treatment of Ansar Sharia members in prison. While attacks by both ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups have taken place since the August crackdown on Ansar Sharia some of whose members joined one or the other , ISIS has focused on spectacular operations targeting civilians and state symbols. It marked a turning point, prompting a strong response from the security services.
Senior officials from the Ben Ali era were appointed to key positions and the government put in place far more draconian policing methods, including imposing a state of emergency. The degree of coordination among the various attacks — and whether they served a coherent strategy — remains unclear, even if hostility to the consensus between An-Nahda and its secular rival Nida Tounes was a recurrent message of ISIS in its propaganda. The most spectacular operation was still to come, however. The attack appeared to have been planned in Libya as a response to the U. These non-Touazines rose through the ranks of the smuggling networks in the s, and especially after Most come from the foothills at the limit of Beni Gedeche province.
Hide Footnote Over 60, mostly Tunisian jihadists — a mix of returnees from Libya and sympathetic locals — took control of major thoroughfares, attempting to get residents to join them and distributing weapons before storming the local police and national guard compounds. Hide Footnote They failed after security forces sent reinforcements; 36 jihadists, eleven members of security forces and seven civilians were killed.
The assault on Ben Guerdane was a shock, but the fact that security forces quickly took control of the situation boosted their confidence.
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It was well-prepared. They had support throughout the city. Crisis Group interview, European intelligence official, location withheld, March Hide Footnote Subsequent investigations into the attacks also contributed to dismantling other ISIS cells in Tunisia, contributing to making Ben Guerdane a turning point: although ISIS has claimed many small-scale attacks, mostly targeting security forces, there has been no major attack since then. The strong security measures taken by the government in the aftermath of the attacks also raised longer-term questions that Tunisia will need to address as part of its democratic transition.
In particular, they rekindled both polarisation between Islamists and anti-Islamists, especially regarding control of the religious space and debate about the kind of security sector reform that still must be implemented.
Dr Jeffrey Michaels
Crisis Group interview, regional counter-terrorism official, Algiers, September Hide Footnote very few individuals in Algeria itself — most probably less than — [fn] Crisis Group interviews, Algerian officials, foreign diplomats, Algiers, September-October To an extent, this reflects steps Algeria took after a January wake-up call, when al-Murabitoun, an Algerian-led jihadist group led by former members of AQIM, attacked the In Amenas natural gas complex in Tiguentourine, near the Libyan border.
This eventually led to a restructuring of the intelligence agency chiefly responsible for counter-terrorism. Since Tiguentourine, measures have been taken, especially with surveillance of borders. We are not in a situation where local populations are helping terrorists, unlike in neighbouring countries.
Algeria learned the lessons of the s. We have built up our immune defences against radicalisation.
All of the security services — police, gendarmes, intelligence — have improved their coordination, working together to identify places — mosques, prisons, etc. The prisons are also much better managed. Another group, Katiba al-Ghuraba, announced its formation in July in the eastern towns of Constantine and Skikda.
Composed in part of a previously AQIM-aligned group, Katiba al-Ittissam, it has carried out relatively small-scale attacks in the region which in turn prompted extensive military responses. Neither ISIS affiliate poses a serious threat to the Algerian state, even if those from the east have the possibility of gaining influence over contraband trade with Tunisia or seek refuge there.
Hide Footnote They nonetheless were met by a zero-tolerance response from the authorities, which stood in contrast to their prior stance of leaving open the possibility of amnesty for groups that lay down their arms. The orders were to kill, no prisoners. So if you want to surrender you still can, but the focus now is on force. Crisis Group interview, counter-terrorism researcher, Algiers, September Generally speaking, Algeria has put into practice a three-part strategy: massive force deployment against militant groups; pervasive security presence the ranks of the police, in particular, have expanded considerably over the last decade ; and, notably through the Civil Concord, a policy of national reconciliation that provided an amnesty to Islamist insurgents and, in exchange for leaving politics, allowed them to engage in conservative social activism.
Those who came down from the maquis imposed their laws. Crisis Group interview, political analyst, Algiers, September Such sentiment is common among educated elites across the francophone Maghreb. Overall, the feeling among officials and many analysts is that this strategy — however imperfect and often-criticised for its eschewing of accountability for the killings and kidnappings committed by militants and security forces in the s — has worked.
That said, the high costs of maintaining such an imposing security posture — in particular the deployment of thousands of troops at the borders with Libya, Niger and Mali — could prove prohibitive, especially given falling oil prices. Another concern revolves around a potential battle to succeed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been seriously ill for many years. This in turn could provoke infighting within the security establishment, although many analysts believe that any turmoil will be temporary and the army will remain firmly in charge.
Explanations vary. Morocco deployed a vast security web across the country. Crisis Group interview, French diplomat, Paris, March Hide Footnote and Rabat tightened its anti-terrorism law, adding provisions to sanction foreign fighters, including five-fifteen year prison terms and heavy fines.
Michaels, Jeffrey H.
Plus, like Algeria, Morocco believes it has learned lessons from past confrontation with jihadist groups. Since the Casablanca bombings, it has improved its policing and intelligence and, more recently, begun to address its prison radicalisation problem. Some Moroccan officials and their international partners criticise this strategy of frequent communication about counter-terrorism efforts as both tending to exaggerate the danger posed and creating false confidence about the capacity to prevent attacks that — as seen in Europe — are very hard to predict or thwart.
Hide Footnote although the government believes some were preparing attacks and had smuggled weapons from Libya. Hide Footnote The bureau also contributed to the capture of several terrorism suspects in Europe, including the perpetrators of the November Paris bombings. Among other claims, the BCIJ said its intelligence led to the location of the hideout used by Paris attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and prevented other attacks in France in Belgium.
Amid this sense of confidence, there is at least one reason for concern: several of the dismantled ISIS cells reportedly were in the southern region of Agadir, an area not previously known for its militancy.