Overview: Libya is a willing partner in the fight against international terrorism, but the country continued to lack a coherent national security bureaucracy to develop a comprehensive counterterrorism plan and functional and capable national security forces to implement it. Numerous factors contributed to Libya proving a permissive environment for terrorists: a central government with weak institutions and only tenuous control over its expansive territory; the ubiquity of uncontrolled weapons and ammunition; porous and inaccessible borders; heavily armed militias and tribes with varying loyalties and agendas; high unemployment among young males along with slow-moving economic improvement; divisions between the country’s regions, towns, and tribes; political paralysis due to infighting and distrust among and between Libya’s political actors; and the absence of a functioning police force or national army. The central government and municipalities have largely failed to provide services to their constituencies, thereby providing fertile soil to terrorist organizations, such as Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS) Benghazi and AAS Darnah, to fill that void and recruit. This confluence of factors has allowed violent extremist elements to use platforms in Libya to conduct short-term training for Libyan and third-country recruits en route to terrorist attack destinations in the region and to Syria. Libya-based violent extremists continued to supply arms throughout the region and to fighters in Syria. Regional terrorist organizations exploited the vulnerabilities of the relatively isolated and ungoverned border regions to the south and west to launch the In Amenas attack in Algeria in January.
Although the government is making efforts and cooperates with the international community to improve its counterterrorism capabilities, progress has been hampered by a lack of trust among stakeholders, in particular between the central government, the General National Congress (GNC), militia groups, and civil society. The only notable initiatives to curb or prevent terrorist activities were the deployment of militia notionally under government control to secure Tripoli – which itself created complications due to the separate agendas and varying degrees of professionalism of those forces; the dispatch of a security coordinator and Special Forces (Sai’qa) to try to evict AAS from Benghazi; efforts to destroy the country’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons; a declaration of intent to increase cooperation in law enforcement investigations and fulfill international crime-fighting obligations; a request to the United States and other international partners to train a General Purpose Force; and the stated ambition to build or improve a domestic intelligence service, the diplomatic police, and law enforcement, in general.
2013 Terrorist Incidents: The list of incidents below highlights terrorist attacks by violent extremist groups acting against U.S., Western, and Libyan government facilities and interests. It is not exhaustive and excludes many incidents in an ongoing campaign of bombings and assassinations – committed at least in part by AAS Darnah and AAS Benghazi – of dozens of security forces, government officials, and civilians, and peaking during the Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr holidays. Most of those attacks have gone without claims of responsibility, although the attacks below were all presumably launched by violent extremists. The goals of these attacks appear to be undermining the fragile democratic transition and spreading fear.
- On January 12, the vehicle of the Italian Consul General was attacked in Benghazi, purportedly by terrorists that had a role in the 2012 attacks against U.S. facilities in Benghazi. No one was injured.
- On March 14 and 28, assaults on Christian Coptic Churches in Benghazi and damage to a major Sufi shrine followed an explosion in the Tajoura neighborhood near Tripoli. There were no injuries or casualties.
- On April 23, a car bomb rumored to be in retaliation for the French military mission in Mali, detonated in front of the French Embassy before working hours, injuring two people, and significantly damaging the Embassy.
- On July 23, an improvised mortar hit a high-rise apartment building located between the Corinthia Hotel, which houses the Prime Minister, Western businessmen, the Qatari Embassy, and Tripoli Towers – home to the British, Canadian, and Maltese Embassies – as well as western companies. There were no injuries or casualties.
- On July 30, a bomb attached to an Italian embassy car detonated near the Italian embassy, destroying the vehicle. No one was injured.
- On August 17, unidentified masked assailants threw a small briefcase bomb toward the Egyptian Consulate General in the Fuwaihat District of Benghazi. One Egyptian security guard sustained minor injuries as the explosion damaged the front of the consulate, neighboring buildings, and nearby automobiles.
- On October 11, in Benghazi, a car bomb caused severe damage to the building housing the joint honorary consulates of Finland and Sweden, private commercial offices, and a number of apartments. There were no injuries or casualties.
- On October 15, 26, and 28, as well as November 3, large bombs exploded outside of a municipal office, a wedding hall, a hospital, and café in Benghazi, but caused no casualties.
- On November 27, an explosion triggered presumably by violent extremists, targeted the shrine of Murad Agha in the area of Tajoura and caused serious damage, but no injuries.
- On December 5, an American teacher was assassinated in Benghazi by gunmen who remained at large at year’s end.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:Libya continued to work on establishing a functioning framework of laws in all areas of governance, but does not have a comprehensive counterterrorism law. However, Title 2, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 170 and Title 2, Chapter 2, Article 207 of the Libyan penal code provides for crimes or offenses prejudicial to state security, and for felonies to the state including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts. Libya has ratified the Organization of African Unity’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws. In 2013, the GNC adopted two laws (Nos. 27 and 53) as part of a security plan to disband all non-state militia groups, including through their integration as individual members into the State’s official institutions. Implementation continues to prove challenging, although some progress has been made, in particular in Tripoli. The Libyan interim parliament also passed a Transitional Justice Law late in the year, which will provide some means to address grievances underlying groups opposing the State.
Libyan law enforcement personnel demonstrated a limited capacity to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. Law enforcement agencies and officers do not have adequate training – particularly in the area of collecting and managing evidence, do not have delineated roles, lack coordination, and are fearful of retribution. Prosecution of terrorism-related crimes was nearly non-existent, with poorly-trained prosecutors and judges often afraid to pursue cases. Although the government has successfully assumed control over a large number of previously militia-controlled prisons, several remain outside of the government’s aegis.
The Libyan government is increasingly seeking to take advantage of training opportunities and other assistance offered by the international community to improve its counterterrorism capabilities, although that assistance is only slowly having an impact on the performance of the country’s security institutions, in part due to absorptive capacity challenges across Libya’s security institutions. Government forces acted in a concerted manner as the bombing and assassination campaign became a chronic feature of life in Benghazi, with additional Special Forces deployed to establish security and combat violent extremist elements theretofore operating with few constraints. Results of the deployment of the additional forces was mixed, however, and violence in Benghazi continued.
Libya’s vast territory and thousands of miles of uncontrolled desert border continued to present a massive security challenge for the government. Border security at Libya’s airports is minimal, with no collection of passenger name records, biometric screenings, or thorough travel document screening, and only limited biographic screening or use of terrorist watchlists. At land crossings, border security is normally either provided by poorly trained, underpaid, and ill-equipped government border guards or by local brigades or tribes with tenuous loyalties to the State and often themselves involved in illicit cross-border trade. As a result, there are considerable illicit flows of goods, people, and weapons across Libya’s porous borders, as evinced by the many refugees sailing from the shores of Libya, by foreign fighters coming to train in Libya, and by the vast number of illicit weapons transiting Libya for the Maghreb, Sahel, and places beyond.
In fulfillment of plans developed at the February 2013 Paris ministerial meeting, Libya has been striving to improve its border management capabilities, notably by working with the EU Border Assistance Mission to Libya that was established during the year, and through cooperation with other partners, including the United States. Progress has been slow, however, as weak national institutions have struggled to absorb this assistance. The Libyan authorities have intensified regional cooperation with their neighbors, especially Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, to exert better control over shared borders. They have agreed on joint checkpoints, coordinated border patrols, increased information exchanges about movements in the border zones, and regular meetings for security staff. Libya has also agreed to set up a joint border security training center in Libya with an eye to promoting regional cooperation in North Africa and the Sahel region, boosting security, and tackling organized crime, smuggling, and illegal migration. Libya has actively participated in regional ministerial dialogue on border security, the latest in Rabat in November, and endorsed its objectives and plans for strengthening practical cooperation, and has sought opportunities to enhance regional links and build the capacity of its officials and institutions.
Despite its limited capacity, Libya is cooperating in the investigation of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests and its political leadership has repeatedly pledged to do everything possible to arrest and bring perpetrators to justice. The Libyan government is cooperating with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe and conducting its own investigation into the September 2012 killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at U.S. government facilities in Benghazi. The Ministry of Interior also opened an investigation into the December 5 murder of Ronald Thomas Smith II, an American teacher working at an international school in Benghazi; the gunmen who carried out the killing remain at large.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force and has committed to the implementation of a national identification database to improve transparency in government salary and programs. Libya has asked for IMF technical assistance for its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. Since the fall of the Qadhafi regime, there has been little reliable data on Libya’s AML/CFT efforts. In 2013, Libya did not pass new legislation or add significant new tools to prevent terrorist financing.
Libya’s Central Bank has established a Financial Information Unit (FIU) as an independent body directly reporting to the Central Bank Governor. Additionally, Libya has had discussions with international donors to provide technical assistance to the FIU and other government entities in combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes; and reorganizing law enforcement and financial entities to help better detect, investigate, and prosecute complex international financial crimes. Libya is also looking to become a member in the Egmont Group’s network of FIUs that are supporting governments in the fight against money laundering, terrorism financing, and other financial crimes. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: Libya has shown considerable engagement in regional and international counterterrorism fora, participating in a Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conference on regional cooperation in criminal matters related to terrorism in the Maghreb and the Sahel, and a GCTF Sahel Working Group meeting to discuss international crime, arms trafficking, and terrorism. Libya has also supported counterterrorism initiatives by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the AU, the AU’s African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT), and the UN General Assembly, where then-Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan reiterated the government’s commitment to work with the international community to address weaknesses in the security and justice sectors and expressed support for the completion of a comprehensive UN convention on terrorism. Meanwhile, Libya has welcomed international efforts to build counterterrorist capacity, in particular following the In Amenas attacks staged from its territory. Libya’s neighbors have reported difficulty in addressing security and counterterrorism issues with the Libyan government, principally due to an inability to identify reliable and sustainable avenues for cooperation.
Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: Although Libya does not yet have a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism, then-Prime Minister Zeidan publicly criticized violent extremist ideology, and the Ministries of Culture and Youth and Sports have launched ad campaigns against violent extremism. The Ministry of Interior and the Warriors Affairs Commission also launched educational and mental health campaigns to assist in the reintegration of former revolutionaries into society and the State, thus providing an alternative to violent extremist ideology. Libya has also been working with the ACSRT in developing strategies for preventing and countering terrorism, and has participated in an ASCRT and UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute regional workshop on the rehabilitation of violent extremist offenders.
Libya’s population is predominantly Muslim, and the society is deeply religiously conservative. Most religious leaders have repeatedly and strongly advocated for a “moderate” Islam to counter the rise of violent extremism, and have publicly denounced violence and criminal groups.