By James Hopkinson, Director of Assaye Risk.
This past week has continued to be dominated by events outside the borders of Libya but which have serious potential implications for Libya and its ongoing difficult security and political situation. In terms of Libya itself it appears clear that there is a pattern emerging of direct intimidation and targeting of international interests, whether western embassies or the UN.
Although the most serious of these threats appear to emanate in the east of the country focused upon Benghazi, they are not confined to there as seen by the threats this week against the UK embassy and others in Tripoli. This did not, however, prevent the visit this week by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister to Tripoli with strong messages of support for Ali Zaidan and his efforts to construct a government of national unity and a process of national dialogue. The British support promised focused upon capacity building for the police and military as Libya struggles to deal with its militias and mosaic of armed groups.
The international community continues to be concerned with the seeming rise of Islamist extremism in the east of the country, centred upon Benghazi. The threat warnings put in place by the US, Canadian, UK, German and Dutch governments urging their nationals to leave Benghazi and its vicinity immediately remain in place; as does the closure for foreigners of the border crossing into and from Egypt at Musaid.
Efforts by the Libyan government to play down the threat have been undermined by the UN’s Special Representative to the Secretary General and Head of the Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Tarek Mitri’s comments about the seriousness of the security challenge in the east of the country and that the continuing assassinations, including the security chief in Benghazi (Colonel Farag al-Dersi) in late November last year, are a direct attempt to undermine the government’s attempts to impose its authority and stability.
This together with continuing analysis from the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria with its links to Libyan extremists and the French intervention in Mali with its repercussions on the current fragile and porous nature of Libya’s borders have dominated reporting.
The violence in the east of the country appears to have two distinct strands to it: the first being to attack the current government and those connected to it such as Naji El-Hariri, who was murdered last week; and secondly, against wider western interests and symbols either as another way of undermining the government’s authority or as part of the wider Islamist extremism agenda.
The attacks appear to be being perpetrated by the same constituency, namely Islamist extremists such as Ansar al-Sharia. There undoubtedly remains a serious security issue in Libya but that should not be applied in a blanket form to the whole country nor should it curtail carefully planned and risk assessed travel to Tripoli and other areas in the west of the country such as Zuwara, Az Zawiya, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and coastal towns such as Ras Lanuf. The levels of violence remain localised to particular flashpoints such as Benghazi.