Security in the capital and major cities will remain positive, although there will be an ongoing risk of sporadic clashes involving rival militia groups. The risk is heightened in areas of the north west of the country outside the capital Tripoli. The risk of small-scale attacks by unidentified hostile elements will also remain, and may be raised around high profile events such as national elections.
The risk of demonstrations will also increase around the time of parliamentary elections, currently scheduled to take place in June. These will focus on central areas of major cities, major hotels and government buildings.
The security environment in Tripoli remains positive. There is an increased presence of police on the streets, although this continues to be mainly restricted to traffic duties as opposed to major law enforcement responsibilities.
Sources at Tripoli International Airport stated on 9 April that the Zintan militia, who have been in control of the airport since its liberation in August, began the process of handing it over to security forces under the control of the ministries of interior and defence. Reports indicate that around 300 militiamen belonging to militias from Zintan, Tajura and Souq al-Juma will be integrated into the airport security force, while others will be given jobs protecting the city’s port facilities. A previous handover date passed by without any progress as the Zintan militia reportedly demanded that 500 militiamen be integrated into the security force at the airport.
The development would mark a significant point in the reassertion of central control in the capital, and if successful would go some way to proving that the national security forces are capable of securing the country’s major facilities and entry points. However, the Interior Ministry forces still have some way to go before they can prove their ability to secure the entire country, and militia groups will likely seek to remain in place until this time. This means that sporadic clashes between rival armed groups will continue to be a threat to security in certain, mostly rural, areas of the country.
AKE personnel on the ground highlighted the tendency for local militia groups to set up checkpoints, often as a form of protest at decisions by the NTC affecting pay and conditions. This can cause disruption to traffic flow in the city. On 12 April a local militia group set up a roadblock near the Rixos hotel in protest over pay. Action like this is most likely to occur around major hotels or office complexes in the city, as these allow the militias to gain the maximum degree of publicity.
AKE sources on the ground have also highlighted an increase in flyovers by Libyan Air Force jets over the past week. The increase is likely aimed at demonstrating the increasing operational readiness of the national armed forces, thus aiding in their attempts to re-take control of key sites in the country that remain under the control of local militia groups.
A small improvised explosive device (IED) was thrown at a convoy carrying the head of the United Nations mission in the city on 10 April. The bomb missed its target and no-one was injured in the attack, while it remains unclear who was responsible. The incident is likely to raise concerns over a possible upsurge in similar attacks, or even the threat of a more organised insurgency with links to extremist militants or former Gaddafi loyalists taking root. However, AKE assesses that such a development is a long way off and at the moment remains highly unlikely.
Although there is a risk of similar attacks in future, there is no evidence to suggest the presence of an organised group that is hostile to the transition process. Furthermore, although some Libyans have taken part in Jihadist violence in other countries over the past 15 years, there is not assessed to be a large number of violent extremists who would seek to derail the rebuilding process. Also, concerns that wealthy former Gaddafi allies may attempt to fund subversive activities and hostile actions in the country are yet to come to fruition.
Unconfirmed reports from the ground indicate that armed clashes took place in the city on 12 April, although there are few details regarding the nature of the clashes. Rival militia groups were reportedly involved in the clashes in the Vinicha area of the city, after one was thought to have links to former Gaddafi loyalists. This is regularly the cause of clashes throughout the country, with local militia groups being accused of supporting Gaddafi, often in a bid to discredit them.
Local militiamen reportedly kidnapped 5 Tunisian fuel smugglers near the border at Ras Ajidir on 7 April, leading the Tunisian authorities to temporarily close the border crossing. Reports indicate that the detention was not political in nature, but is connected to the rampant smuggling business between the two countries. Talks were reportedly underway involving the national army in a bid to free the captives.
The incident highlights the threat posed by unchecked militia groups, who have carried out a number of vigilante actions in the country since the fall of the previous regime. Personnel operating in the country are advised to be aware of the risk of summary detention by local militia groups, particularly when they are travelling outside major cities. Have all relevant documentation on your person, and inform as many people in official circles as possible as to your intended destination, particularly if it involves travel to the south of the country, where government authority is currently minimal.
Tensions remain high in the south of the country following a truce between local Arab fighters and Tebu militiamen, and the arrival of government troops from Misrata and Zintan to keep the peace. Age-old rivalries came to light in the south of the country during the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The potential for further clashes remains, although violence is unlikely to spread beyond the southeast.
Personnel intending to travel to the south of the country are advised to maintain a high degree of vigilance, and be aware of the risks of kidnap and summary detention. It is advised to inform as many people in official circles as possible in order to increase the efficiency of any response in the event of an incident. All relevant documentation should be kept with you at all times, and the relevant authorities should be consulted in case there is a need for specific documentation.
Alan Fraser is a Libya specialist with AKE, a British risk mitigation company working in Libya throughout the crisis. You can access AKE’s intelligence website Global Intake here.