Review of The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya
On 26 June, the Libya Herald published a detailed review of our recent report, ‘The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya,’ which was written by Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith and Karim Mezran, published by the Atlantic Council, and funded by Eye on ISIS in Libya.
For the past three decades, the 62-page report states, Libya has been a rich recruiting ground for global jihad. Investigating the precursors and then subsequent evolution of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other extremist actors throughout this period presents actionable insights into how jihadist actors coalesce; how they interfere in post-conflict state building; the threats they pose to civilians, nascent economies, and external states; and finally, what complexities remain when their hold on territory has been eradicated, but their adherents have not been killed nor their ideology debunked.
Over the last three years, the report continues, ISIS has become the enemy of the vast majority of the Libyan people. By ignoring Libyan tribal norms–killing too many people and brutally crushing resistance–ISIS first lost the city of Derna in early 2015, and then later, its stronghold in the city of Sirte in late 2016.
This fits into a larger regional dynamic, whereby ISIS’s brutality has tended to backfire, while its administrative capacity has won it support. As such, ISIS initially thrived in vulnerable localities in Libya because it exploited local cleavages and because previous central governments were reluctant to devolve power to local authorities, the report says.
Surveying this history, the report concludes that Western policy must seek to get militias and local councils to take ownership of governance and justice issues, rather than merely directing them to fight ISIS or other jihadists.