ISIS bolsters its position in Libya by claiming to defend it against “foreign invaders”: UN

Published 11 March 2016

ISIS has greatly expanded its control over territory in Libya, and the Islamist militants are now claiming to be the defenders of the North African state against foreign military intervention, according to UN sanctions monitors.

In their annual report to the UN security council, the monitors also said Libya has become more attractive to foreign fighters who mainly arrive through Sudan, Tunisia, and Turkey.

The International Business Times reports that The United States has carried out air strikes against ISIS facilities and forces in Libya. A U.S. air strike in the eastern city of Derna in November 2015 killed Abu Nabil, ISIS’s previous leader in Libya.

The UN Libya experts also said they had received reliable information that foreign militaries are present in Libya to support efforts to fight and disrupt ISIS, but did not name the countries involved.

U.S. and U.K. Special Forces have been operating in Libya for a while, training and equipping local militias which oppose ISIS.

“The rise of ISIL in Libya is likely to increase the level of international and regional interference, which could provoke further polarization, if not coordinated,” said the UN experts who monitor sanctions on Libya.

“In anticipation, ISIL has been spreading a nationalistic narrative, portraying itself as the most important bulwark against foreign intervention,” they said.

IBTnotes that ISIS has taken advantage of the political vacuum in Libya which followed the toppling of Col. Muammar Qaddafi in November 2011.

U.S. intelligence estimates that the number of ISIS fighters in Libya is now about 6,000.

The UN experts investigated whether ISIS operatives could use a backup of Libya’s banking system in the city of Sirte, which is under ISIS control, to misappropriate funds, but banking employees told the investigators that the system was either damaged or outdated.

“Consequently, control over Sirte does not give ISIL access to state finances or to the wider Swift system,” the experts reported. Swift is a member-owned cooperative that banks use for account transfer requests and other secure messages.

“It is, however, likely that the site continues to hold all Libyan historic banking data, which could prove useful to anyone seeking to mask fraudulent transactions,” the investigators said.