Libyans and extremist groups experts have expressed concerns that radical organizations may exploit the unrest in Libya to establish new strongholds for their activities in northern and western Africa and the Sahel region.
Such concerns are justified as Turkey continues to bring in droves of mercenaries and extremists from northern Idlib in Syria to Libya.
Ankara had intervened in the Libyan crisis in favor of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Founder of the “Silphium center for studies and research” Gamal Shallouf said Turkey has transformed Libya into a “backyard base” for terrorists because it continues to bring in extremists from Idlib and northern Syria to Tripoli.
This may pave the way for Libya to turn into an open ground for such terrorist organizations or for the emergence of new groups that may defect from present ones, he warned to Asharq Al-Awsat. “These new groups could be more radical than the original ones.”
He explained that after any defeat, terrorist groups often split up into smaller ones. This was demonstrated in Syria, where some terrorists have moved from one old battleground to a new one.
The international community should have rid Syria of these organizations, but Ankara swept in instead and moved them to Libya, he remarked.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had revealed that Turkey has transferred some 10,000 extremists from Syria to Libya. Many of these fighters were members of al-Qaeda and are wanted internationally on terror charges.
Shallouf cited confirmed reports in March that said members of the Hurras al-Din al-Qaeda affiliate had moved to Libya’s Misrata. Some have even headed to Mali. Former members of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group also headed to Libya in April
As for ISIS, members of the group have joined the affiliate in southern Libya, know as the “army of the desert”, that operates in southern Algeria, Chad and Niger.
Shallouf warned that the emergence of such fighters and new alliances will pose a danger not only to Libya, but the entire region. Some new groups, including ISIS affiliates, may align themselves with Boko Haram that is active in Nigeria, Chad and Mali. Others may join the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
Moreover, Shallouf warned that the extremists may take advantage of Libya’s strategic location and head to Europe. Unconfirmed reports said that some have even made it to the continent after traveling onboard illegal migrant boats.
Tunisian extremist groups expert Dr. Alaya Allani said Turkey is seeking to reduce the number of ISIS members in camps it oversees in Syria by transferring them to Libya under the pretense of backing the GNA.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said ISIS and al-Qaeda extremists will join present groups that are active in Africa. “Even though they follow contradictory ideologies and different leaderships, they have recently divided areas of influence, namely in Mali and Burkina Faso,” he added.
Despite the seemingly bleak outlook, he expressed confidence that the radical extremist groups will no longer be able to keep a foothold in Libya once the Berlin conference agreements are implemented.
“Contrary to Syria, no one in Libya will accept them, which means they will have to move to the Sahel region that borders Libya and also towards the Sahara Desert,” he said. The Sahara could some day become a main stronghold for such groups.
A report by the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies found a sharp rise in terrorist activity in Africa in 2019. It documented 3,471 terror attacks that killed at least 10,000 people.
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