How the Islamic State gained ground in Libya and the risk of losing an ancient heritage

It is ironic that after the fall of Qaddafi, who was the most outspoken of the Arab leaders on a reign of external terror against the West and who sponsored terror groups to fight the United States and other countries we see a new terrorist organization on Libyan soil but this time fighting against Libya. “Inside Libya, ISIS is one of several organizations struggling for power and control. The establishment of ISIS in Libya increases the chaos and anarchy plaguing the country, making it difficult to stabilize a central government.” (Spindlove, p. 251)

What really helped the Islamic State to gain control and power in Libya? In my opinion, first, the political instability and second, the absence of the Muammar Qaddafi. “The overthrow of the Qaddafi regime left a political and security vacuum in the country that ISIS will seek to exploit.” (Spindlove, p. 251) Indeed, Libya’s political vacuum opened the door for ISIS. How much support does the Islamic State in Libya is wildly argued. “The United States estimates that the group commands 2,000 to 3,000 fighters there, U.S. intelligence sources peg its fighting strength at 5,000 to 6,000 men, and French sources claim that it commands over 10,000 fighters.” (El Amrani, 2018)

What is not disputed is the characteristics of the new terrorism that ISIS implements in Libya: loose, cell-based networks with minimal central control; religious motivations; use of high-intensity weapons and urge to maximize casualties. “In order for it to be successful, ISIS has established a system that has so far worked for the – they have succeeded by not working from a home base rather they parachute into regions in a clandestine manner and set up intelligence cells to determine which local actors are sympathetic to ISIS. They infiltrate local groups and create front organizations in preparation for their takeover of an area – the intelligence phase also allows them to identify those are in opposition who will be targeted once ISIS gained control.” (Spinglove, p. 253)

In Libya, I see how ISIS made a transition from a terrorist group to rulers in territories they have overtaken. Currently, ISIS has control over the north-central region of the country where they built their central base. This strategical location is not randomly selected. “From this port, a vast number of migrants have flocked to make sea journey to Europe. These movements are facilitated by militias, criminal gangs, and ISIS. This is a lucrative trade in human capital and brings in millions of dollars a year.” (Spindlove, p. 252) Beside its smuggling business, in order to gain influence on new territories and keep the local population in fear ISIS employs sniper assassination operations, car bombs, suicide attacks, tactics that include hit and run attacks and many others violent acts.

But let’s not forget about ISIS ideology and their cruel acts against those who don’t share their brand of Islam. The terrorist group not only beheaded only Christians and Jews but many Muslims who do not follow the Sharia law. Women are forced to wear veils at all time while in public, music materials and devises are destroyed, cigarettes and alcohol are prohibited, education in schools and universities is banned. What worries me the most is ISIS’ absolutely vandalism of ancient heritage and art in general. Libya houses treasures drawing from the Greek and Roman eras, and Christian and Islamic history. One of the world’s most impressive Roman ruins dating back to 1000BC can be seen at the town of Leptis Magna; one of the oldest colonies of the ancient Greek empire is in Cyrene, not to mention the ancient Roman Amphitheatre of Sabratha, one of Libya’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. ISIS affiliates in Libya have not yet targeted these sites, but because the group is presented nearby, the world may forever lose this incredible heritage if we don’t rise against this evil.

Spindlove, Jeremy R.; Simonsen, Clifford E.. Terrorism Today: The Past, The Players, The Future (Page 50). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

El Amrani, Issander. Feb 18, 2018. How Much of Libya Does the Islamic State Control? Retrieved on October 11, 2018 from: