Instability may increase throughout the country over the coming weeks, as the authorities continue to struggle to enforce law and order, particularly in rural areas and the south of the country.
With elections approaching, the interim regime will be keen to demonstrate it has made some security gains and progress on the integration of disparate militia groups into a centralised security force. However in truth, progress has been slow, and the national army will remain incapable of controlling many of the armed groups that remain and are carrying out vigilante actions at will.
There is a risk of further militant attacks on government personnel and assets, as well as those of foreign governments and organisations. Benghazi remains most at risk of such attacks, although Tripoli is also at risk and personnel should remain vigilant.
There is also a risk of political protests and demonstrations in the run-up to the elections, particularly as the candidates' political campaigns get under way. Personnel should be mindful of the risks posed to their security in the vicinity of large political gatherings; the reaction to foreigners, although generally positive, has the potential to be hostile. This is particularly true for media personnel.
Although Tripoli remains largely calm overall, AKE personnel on the ground have highlighted growing reports of criminality, mostly car-jackings, in outer areas of the city, particularly in the districts of Sarraj and Janzour. The risk is heightened at night and personnel in the city are advised to minimise their movements after dark, particularly in outlying areas towards the airport.
AKE personnel also reported a suspected assassination attempt outside the Radisson Blu hotel on 15 June targeting an individual who is thought to be an election candidate. No casualties were reported, although heavy gunfire could be heard in the area for a short period before security was restored.
The incident highlights the ongoing risk of violent clashes due to the general lack of central authority and widespread presence of weapons in the hands of rival militia groups. Tensions are likely to be further heightened as the elections approach.
Two UK FCO personnel were reportedly injured when a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attack targeted a vehicle carrying British FCO personnel. The FCO has confirmed that 2 RPGs were fired at the convoy, with one hitting a vehicle directly. This was then followed by small-arms fire.
AKE personnel on the ground have long highlighted the risk posed to personnel travelling in high profile convoys in major towns and cities, particularly Benghazi, which has seen a number of attacks against Western diplomatic targets in recent weeks. Recent attacks have largely targeted high profile assets or convoys, which are easily picked out by hostile elements.
The recent attack against the US consulate in Benghazi has been claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Imprisoned Shaykh Omar Abdulrahman Brigades in Libya, after the man commonly known as "the blind sheikh”, who is currently serving a life sentence in the US for conspiracy to plot attacks within the country. The group also claimed that the attack was revenge for the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, the former al-Qaeda second in command who was killed in a recent US drone strike in Pakistan. Subsequent attacks on a UK diplomatic convoy in Benghazi and the Red Cross offices in Misrata are also likely to be linked to Islamist militants, leading to fears that a low-level Islamist insurgency may be taking shape.
A remote controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED) was detonated outside the Red Cross office in Misrata on 13 June, leaving a local resident injured and causing damage to the building. The attack was the second on the organisation in less than a month, and demonstrates the growing threat to the assets and personnel of international organisations operating throughout Libya.
Misrata has experienced comparatively little in the way of security incidents since its liberation from the hands of Gaddafi forces during the uprising. Local militia groups are responsible for maintaining security in the city, meaning there is little in the way of the militia rivalry which is the reason for much of the violence elsewhere in the country. The latest attack demonstrates that even here personnel should be vigilant and aware of the potential for attacks by hostile elements. International organisations and diplomatic assets have been the main targets of similar attacks throughout the country and personnel operating in the area should consider a low profile approach that will help them avoid being targeted by any hostile elements that do exist there.
AKE personnel on the ground who have visited the country's major facilities and transport hubs have long highlighted that security measures in place remain incapable of mitigating a determined and organised insurgency. Although recent attacks have been rudimentary and left no major casualties, if the capabilities of those carrying out these attacks were to improve, they may be capable of inflicting significant damage on strategic and vital infrastructure throughout the country.
Although violence remains relatively low level at present, the apparent inability of the central security forces to prevent attacks and the lack of progress over the formation of an effective security infrastructure must remain a concern for the government, as well as foreign companies with significant interests in Libya.
Low Profile Approach
AKE personnel on the ground have long highlighted the necessity for a low profile approach to security in Libya. Not only does this mitigate the risk of being targeted by hostile elements, an argument supported by the fact that all the recent militant attacks have targeted high profile assets or convoys of foreign governments and international organisations, it is also a more cost effective and efficient way to approach security management for smaller foreign companies in Libya.
Using local sources to facilitate transport and business activity can speed up these processes and enable the development of mutually beneficial relationships within the local business community, while developing an understanding of local culture and conditions that will only benefit companies in the long-term.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been told to leave Sirte due to concerns over security. The order reportedly came from the local military council, at the behest of the Interior Ministry. The majority of NGOs operating in the area were demining organisations and it remains unclear when they will be able to return.
The announcement came shortly after reports that a number of policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the city, leading to concerns over security. There were no reports of who was responsible for the alleged incident; however, personnel operating in and transiting through the area are advised to be aware that the security situation could potentially deteriorate at short notice.
Zintan – al-Mashasha Clashes
At least 14 people were killed and 89 injured in fighting near the town of Mizdah, south of the Jabal Nafusa region of western Libya, after fighting continued between militiamen from the town of Zintan and fighters belonging to the al-Mashasha tribe. Mizdah is located on the main transport route towards the south of the country and is used by those travelling to the Murzuq Basin in the south west.
AKE assesses that this route remains unstable and there is a risk of clashes at a number of flashpoint areas. Personnel travelling through the area are advised to investigate the situation in advance as clashes are likely to occur in number of areas along the route.
AKE personnel have highlighted reports that militiamen from the town of Sabratha took control of the border crossing with Tunisia at Ras Ajidir. Although details of the incident remain unclear, the reports highlight the vulnerability of strategic entry points, which have been targeted by militia groups seeking to highlight their own grievances and strengthen their relative positions. The incident came a week after a militia group from the town of Tarhouna took temporary control of Tripoli International Airport.
Fighting continued for a second day on 10 June in the southern desert town of al-Kufra, where government forces clashed with local Tebou tribal fighters. At least 16 people have reportedly been killed since the fighting began on 9 June. The incident highlights the constant threat of violence in a number of flashpoint rural towns throughout the country. Government officials have reportedly travelled to the area and are in negotiations to end the fighting. The region will likely remain a centre of instability and potential violence over the coming months at least, as long as local groups with a history of tensions between them remain heavily armed.
An International Criminal Court (ICC) lawyer and her interpreter are facing at least 45 days in detention as their meeting with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is investigated. A four-man ICC delegation was detained in the town of Zintan after one of its members, an Australian lawyer, was found to be carrying "suspicious" documents. A number of foreign journalists and other personnel have been detained on suspicion of spying by different militia groups over the last six months.
Recent reports are increasingly linking the surge in low-level militant attacks on foreign assets and personnel with alleged Jihadist training camps near the town of Derna in north eastern Libya. Unconfirmed reports have also highlighted claims of CIA drones flying over the area, in what senior Libyan officials have confirmed are surveillance missions aimed at monitoring rising activity by al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The developments come after a claim of responsibility for the recent bomb attack against the US embassy by a previously unknown group calling itself the Imprisoned Shaykh Omar Abdulrahman Brigades in Libya. The attack was claimed in retaliation for the recent assassination of former al-Qaeda second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was originally from Derna.
Derna has long been associated with militant Islamist fighters, with many of them travelling to Iraq and Afghanistan to join local Jihadist networks. Many of the most well known however, took part in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and have since turned their backs on violent Jihad in favour of support for the transition to democracy.
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