Geopolitics

Has ISIS Really Arrived In Libya?

Deadly attacks in Tripoli are prompting fears that ISIS is spreading north and west. Others however warn of the spectre of a "counter-revolution" of Gaddafi nostalgics similar to what's happened in Egypt.

Bullet hole left by the Jan. 27 attack on Tripoli's Corinthia Hotel
Bullet hole left by the Jan. 27 attack on Tripoli's Corinthia Hotel
Jean-Philippe Rémy

TRIPOLI — Last week's terrorist attack on Tripoli's luxury Corinthia hotel was a brazen operation, killing nine people, including a French pilot working for a local firm, his Korean co-pilot, two Filipino air hostesses, a U.S. national working for a security firm and at least four Libyan security staff working at the hotel.

But the Jan. 27 assault was not mere random violence. At about 8 a.m., the group forced their way into the hotel facing the old city walls, and used a car bomb to blow up its security barrier and a sentry post, which set several more cars on fire. Penetrating the hotel's vast entrance lobby, the attackers opened fire in the hotel café where where most of their victims died.

At that point, the assailants proceeded upstairs looking for Omar al-Hasi, prime minister of the "National Salvation" government, an offshoot of the Fajr Libya or Libyan Dawn Alliance. It is not the government recognized by the international community but is currently engaged in UN sponsored talks with the other Libyan coalition affiliated with General Khalifa Haftar's Operation Karama (Dignity) and the recognized Libyan authorities presently ensconced in the eastern district of Cyrenaica. Fajr Libya security people had already led al-Hasi out of the hotel.

"We know they're there"

A group calling itself the Tripoli branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility on Twitter. Its declaration praised the "heroes of the Caliphate" and termed the attack the "battle of Abu Anas al-Libi," referring to a Libyan member of al-Qaeda, Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Ruqai, who helped organize the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Dawn fighters in Kikia, Libya — Photo: Hamza Turkia/Xinhua/ZUMA

Initially sent to Libya to create an al-Qaeda base, a U.S. team caught al-Ruqai in Tripoli in October 2013 and sent him to the United States, where he died last month of Hepatitis C complications, ahead of his trial. Twitter again displays pictures of two men, described as Tunisian and Sudanese, and cites them as the purported hotel attackers.

Experts are now asking if indeed ISIS is truly present on the ground in Tripoli, beyond the claims it makes online. It took responsibility for several attacks and incidents in preceding days, including a Jan. 17 bomb that exploded outside the Algerian embassy (shut like all embassies but Italy's), injuring three guards. Days later, a fire broke out in the big Souk Talata shopping center. This was then claimed as an attack, surprisingly, after being initially qualified as an accidental explosion due to bad wiring in a bakery. The offices of the United Nations Development Program, also empty after its staff left Libya, were then sprayed with machine gun fire.

Several sources have told Le Monde that militant cells may have indeed infiltrated the city. One source expressed fear that so-called "ghosts" — terrorists who were present but never visible — were ready to perpetrate some violent act in the capital.

ISIS is present in Libya in Derna (Cyrenaica), where the Islamic Youth Shura Council officially declared its allegiance to the group in October 2014. In early January another group claiming ties to ISIS declared it had killed a dozen soldiers from the former regular army, this time in southern Libya.

Libyan Dawn authorities recently said they did not consider these groups to be a threat, especially in Tripoli. Days before the attack, Omar al-Hasi spoke to Le Monde in another hotel, not the Corinthia where he narrowly escaped death, and dismissed with a smile the suggestion of Salafists setting up shop in Libya.

Propaganda?

Abdulrahman Sewehli, a politician from Misrata and influential member of Libyan Dawn, stated at his home in Tripoli that talk of ISIS in Libya was just "propaganda" being spread by General Haftar's supporters. The "so-called terrorists," he said, "are thuwar (militiamen who fought Colonel Gaddafi in 2011).

"It is the same people, they haven't changed. But now it suits our enemies to call them that," Sewehli said.

He says that claims of militant groups being present in southern Libya, made by several states including France really "depend on your mental perception." He said, ironically: "I asked the French ambassador (before the embassy shut) where these Jihadists were in Libya, and he could not answer me with precise details."

Recent claims about acts of violence, he added, were from "people who want to show that Tripoli is not safe."

Omar Khadrawi, the Libyan Dawn administration's security chief for Tripoli, told Al-Nabaa television on January 27 that those responsible for the Corinthia attack were "Gaddafi's revolutionary guards and (members) of pro-Gaddafi execution squads." Sewehli says Libyan Dawn authorities are fighting to protect the "fruits of the 2011 revolution" against General Haftar's coalition, which includes pro-Gaddafi elements intent on implementing a "counter-revolution like in Egypt."

Whether or not that is pure conjecture, the "ghosts" are becoming increasingly real.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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