Biggest Terror Attack in Libyan History and Lukewarm GNA response
Since the start of 2016, IS has succeeded in dominating not only the international response to Libya but also the domestic Libyan political context. After last week’s flash offensive against the oil crescent ports Sidra and Ras Lanuf was repelled, a rigged water truck exploded on the morning of 7 January in Zliten, a coastal city just west of Misrata, killing at least 65 police recruits and injuring more than 200, in the largest ever terrorist attack in Libyan history. The attack was likely an attempt to compensate for the failure of the group to capture the oil crescent. It worked as a way to maintain the group’s offensive momentum and was followed by a number of other IS operations in the following days.
The attack caused notable shock and anger from local populations, especially in the Libyan western region, who heretofore had not felt the brunt of IS expansion and terrorism . Therefore in the longterm the attack may backfire by galvanizing popular anti-IS sentiment in western Libya. In the short term it also provided the UN-recognized GNA presidential council, led by PM Fayez Alsarraj with the perfect first opportunity to touch down on Libyan soil for the first time to pay respects to the families of the dead in Zliten.
That trip almost ended in political debacle, however. The GNA motorcade was confronted by some militia members upon their return to depart from Misrata airport. The militia fired weapons into the air, forcing the council members to return to Zliten temporarily until the issue was resolved. This highlighted that the GNA completely lacks adequate security and is entirely reliant on temporarily allied militias or the international community for its security.
As the deadlines set by the UN-mediated Libyan political agreement are fast approaching, the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA still seems fragile. Additionally, the lack of quorum in the HoR to endorse the PC in an official majority vote for two weeks in a row now does not bode well. As things currently stand, it seems highly unlikely that the PC will meet the first deadline to form a government within this week. In this context, it is probable that the spate of IS attacks continue in the near term, posing grave risks to oil facilities and infrastructure, especially in the oil crescent.