Islamic State loyalists fight on in Libya

A team of Islamic State jihadists raided a military camp in the southern Libyan city of Sebha on May 4. It was the latest in a string of small-scale operations carried out by the so-called caliphate after the loss of its territory along the Mediterranean coast. The Islamic State’s Libyan arm once held the city of Sirte and several surrounding towns and villages, but a US-backed campaign dislodged the group from that ground in late 2016.

The jihadists assaulted a camp maintained by fighters loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, who is currently seeking to seize the capital of Tripoli in the northern part of the war-torn country. They targeted a prison inside the camp that possibly held their comrades.

The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the operation on behalf of its so-called Fezzan province, saying that 16 members of Haftar’s forces were killed or wounded. The jihadists added that all of the prisoners inside the camp were freed.

The group’s Amaq News Agency released a single-page statement on the raid. Citing a supposed “security source,” Amaq reported that Islamic State “fighters killed a number of soldiers and guards at the military base,” which is known as the “Jabril Baba” camp. The “rest of the camp” supposedly fled in “panic,” as the “fighters burned a number of tanks, vehicles and stores,” while also seizing weapons and ammunition.

The Islamic State followed up with a set of photos from inside the camp. The pictures are reproduced below, excluding those that show the corpses of fighters killed during the operation.

A local official told Reuters that one of the deceased soldiers was beheaded, a typical Islamic State tactic.

It is not clear how many men the Islamic State has inside Libya, but the group still views the country as a key jihadist battlefield.

In late April, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first appearance on camera in nearly five years. He sought to rally his men, encouraging them to fight on despite the loss of their physical caliphate. One of Baghdadi’s lieutenants handed him a series of brochures that featured each of the group’s so-called “provinces.”

Baghdadi praised the “mujahideen brothers” from the Islamic State in Iraq (Bayji and Mosul), Sirte (Libya), and Baghouz (Syria) for refusing to “abandon their faith.” The jihadists in Iraq, Libya and Syria did not “give away land to the infidels,” but instead fought until the ground was littered with “corpses” and “body parts,” Baghdadi said.

After reveling in the carnage, Baghdadi vowed that he and his men would fight on. He congratulated “your brothers in Libya” for their recent blessed raid on the town of Al-Fuqaha, which is located in the central part of the country. Baghdadi crowed that the jihadists proved to their enemies that they were capable of seizing the initiative, “regardless of their withdrawal” from the town.

The mid-April raid in Al-Fuqaha was the second time Baghdadi’s men assaulted the town in recent months. Last October, they entered the town in a brief hit-and-run operation, before quickly fleeing.

The Islamic State portrayed the assault on Al-Fuqaha in mid-April as part of its worldwide revenge campaign for the loss of its territory in Syria.

The 177th edition of the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter included this infographic summarizing worldwide operations conducted as revenge for Syria.

Indeed, Baghdadi claimed that “92 operations in eight countries” were carried out to avenge the loss of ground in Syria. The Islamic State leader said that this was significant because it is indicative of the
“mujahideen’s unity of rank” and “steadfastness.” Immediately after trumpeting this worldwide campaign, Baghdadi specifically praised the operation in Al-Fuqaha.

In his speech, Baghdadi also argued that the “battle today” is a “battle of attrition.” He recommended that all of his loyalists “drain” their enemies of their resources, including “military, economic, and logistical resources.” Their jihad will continue “until the Day of Resurrection,” because Allah has “commanded us to wage jihad and did not order us to achieve victory.”

Baghdadi’s words are a far cry from the Islamic State’s motto at the height of its power, when the jihadists swore their caliphate was “remaining and expanding” — a saying that implied their victory was a foregone conclusion. Regardless, the one-time caliphate fights on in Libya and elsewhere.

Islamic State photos from the raid on a military camp in Sebha, Libya

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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