Overview

The tenuous situation during the spring and summer of 2014 laid the groundwork for the rise of ISIS in Libya. Following the aftermath of elections for the House of Representatives in June 2014, and the subsequent country-wide split between supporters of Libya Dawn, Operation Dignity and other independent militias, conditions were ripe for jihadists to stake their claim. Throughout this period, local fighters returned to Libya from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. In Derna, returning jihadists established the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC) to recruit new members to the ISIS banner, however, its efforts were met with stiff resistance. At the behest of the self-appointed ISIS caliph Abu Bakr Baghdadi, ISIS representatives traveled from Syria in September 2014 to obtain commitments of allegiance from the IYSC and to formally establish the ISIS “Wilayat Barqa” in Derna, which took place in November 2014.

Since that time, ISIS has taken over the city of Sirte, establishing “Wilayat Tarablus” in February 2015, and has attempted to push into other territories as far afield as the Fezzan. More recently, ISIS conducted attacks on Sabratha and installations in Libya’s oil crescent. The group has increasingly tightened its grip on Sirte over the last year, concentrating its base of operations there after being pushed out Derna and suffering defeats at the hands of its rivals in Benghazi. Various estimates also suggest that ISIS has grown to between 5,000-6,000 fighters.  These developments have created a troublesome prospect for Libya and the greater region. Furthermore, the entrenchment of ISIS in Libya means that the Government of National Accord will face a significant battle for control even after any potential reconciliation between East and West is brokered.