In Sabratha, the short-lived emergence of an Islamist militia, mistakenly referred to by the international media as ISIS, and their temporary manning of checkpoints on the main road in the city, led to a temporary closure of schools and public administrations. International media reports gravely exaggerated the incident, announcing that Sabratha was declared an emirate of IS, but the fighters now in control of the city are in fact are believed to be affiliated to Ansar Al Sharia (AAS). They were provoked into action by the arrest of a Libyan and a Tunisian Islamists by the local police checkpoint in Sabratha.
The emergence of these militias in Sabratha confirms fears of possibly dangerous presence of non-state actors coming to dominate the city. It is likely that these actors will thrive if national political developments further destabilize the country, creating a situation in Sabratha similar to those in Benghazi, Derna and Ajdabiya.
Risks from other Jihadi groups are increasing in the Oil Crescent region, in anticipation of new military operations by Haftar’s LNA forces against these militias, and may exacerbate conflict if this campaign targets local Ajdabiya Revolutionary Shura Council (ARSC) militias, which are affiliated both with Ansar Al Sharia and with the PFG’s federalist leadership. They may also have connections to ISIS. These militias lost key members in Haftar’s airstrikes on their camps last month and one militia, named the Martyrs Brigade announced their intentions to retaliate. These developments demonstrate that ISIS slots into pre-existing tribal and regional feuds in Libya and allies with various actors even if they are not nominally Islamists. The strategy has heretofore insulated ISIS from the potential rise of a coherent coalition geared at stopping its expansion.