Category Archives: Libya

Libya: Thoughts on the kidnapping of 2 Italians and 1 Canadian workers at Ghat

Rida Lyammouri

September 27, 2016

There are still no news and more questions asked than answers one week after the kidnapping of two Italians and one Canadian in southwest Libya. Italian government was first to confirm the abduction of two of its citizens while Canadian government confirmed the troubling news almost a week later. The three workers of Ghat airport were reportedly taken while traveling between Ghat and Tahala near the borders with Algeria. Surprisingly they were traveling without adequate security protection despite that the driver might have been armed, but who is not armed in the area?

As of Monday, September 26th no group claimed responsibility leaving room only for speculations and questions. Because of the history of kidnapping for ransoms (KFRs) in the Sahel Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have a strong track record to be considered the main suspect to be indirectly or directly behind the kidnapping. However this will be the first time the group have kidnapped foreign nationals in southwest Libya, an area AQIM mostly used for planning and movement of weapons. Since AQIM emerged a decade ago it relied on KFRs to finance its operations as it reportedly generated close to $100M between 2008 and 2014.

Here are few thoughts on the kidnapping:

  • Most likely hostages still in southwest Libya and has yet to be transferred to preferred areas by AQIM and allies, notably northern Mali where at least four foreign hostages are held.
  • If AQIM is behind Ghat kidnapping, the group likely to seek ransom for their release from Canadian and Italian governments, or the company hostages were working for. This is encouraging for the abductors because both governments reportedly paid ransoms for the release of their citizens held in Mali.
  • Either the operation was directly carried by AQIM or armed

    Image of a traveling vehicle in Northeast Niger, July 2015. Source: Sahel MeMo.

    bandits, the kidnappers appear to be well informed and knew foreign nationals were traveling on Ghat – Tahala route. This is similar to previous kidnappings claimed by AQIM and allies in Mali and Niger where the abductors always knew the exact location of their potential hostages. Not only that, but also able to execute without being captured. For instance abductors knew the house Swiss national was staying at in Timbuktu January 2016 and managed to escape despite presence of Malian and foreign forces in the city. Back in September 2011 abductors knew the exact rooms where humanitarian workers staying at in Tindouf. In November 2011, kidnappers knew there were western tourists staying at hotel al-Afia in Timbuktu.

  • There are several reasons for the delay of claiming responsibility. First the transfer of hostages likely has yet to take place especially if the operation was conducted by armed bandits planning to strike a deal with AQIM or other suiters. Second the abductors might be attempting to reach a safe area which is not as easy as might seem despite instability. Movement of hostages might be challenging due to increased French patrol operations to crackdown on the movement of weapons and fighters with ties to violent extremist organizations (VEOs).
  • If AQIM is behind the kidnapping they would ideally like to move the three hostages to northern Mali where the group still holding at least three foreign hostages. Hostages unlikely to be kept together at the same exact location to avoid loosing all hostages in one rescue mission.
  • Northeast Niger is also an option but is a challenge for two reasons: French and Niger forces frequent surveillance and it’s more challenging in terms of logistics compared to northern Mali.
  • Unlike in Mali and Algeria, AQIM and allies used southwest Libya to plan operations rather than carrying attacks, especially after 2011. For instance In-Amenas attack in Algeria January 2013 then Arlit and Agadez in Niger May 2013 were both planned by Mokhtar Belmokhtar men in southwest Libya.

Libya: Chronology of security incidents and violent clashes in Libya: 08 – 14 August period

By Rida Lyammouri

August 16th, 2016

There are two types of Islamist militant groups operating in Libya. Local groups: Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council (BRSC), Darnah Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC), Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shurah Council (ARSC), Ansar al-Sharia Libya (AAS), Defense Brigade of Benghazi (DBB), Ajdabiya Operations Room (GATMJB). Regional groups: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (IS).

Attacks and incidents listed below are not comprehensive and do not include all violence taking place in Libya. However these are incidents occurring in strategic areas where Libyan National Army (LNA) and its Western allies [with air support mainly] are carrying operations to chase Islamist militants out of their strongholds. Most of information is gathered through open source reporting and social media, and at times it’s difficult to confirm number of casualties and actors involved in an incident.

Key points and comments from MENASTREAM who has been following Libyan conflict very closely and recent evolvement of different groups in Libya:

  • Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council (ARSC) don’t longer exist and was dissolved several months ago resulting in the creation of ‘Operations Room for the Liberation of the City Ajdabiya and Support for Benghazi Rebels.’ GATMJB as abbreviation is now accepted according to same observer.
  • Ansar al-Sharia do exist but very much folded into BRSC along with Rafallah Sahati Brigade, February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade and few others that seems to have become totally folded into BRSC.
  • GATMJB and DBB work together but are work very closely together pretty much like one with the GATMJB leader al-Saadi al-Nawfali being a senior commander in DB as well along with Zied Bel’am commander of Katibat Omar al-Mukhtar, Mustapha Sharkassi former LAF spokesman i.e. former LNA (Haftar), Frag Shaku, the commander of February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade and also one of the main field commanders in BRSC prior the formation of DBB.
  • Increased use of suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) by BRSC could be explained by the fact they have been pushed back significantly and pretty much holed up in the corner of the ‘Western region’ Gawarsha, Ganfouda and Garyounis/south Benghazi. In this area there is an obvious possible coordination/cooperation with IS which influences this behavior. But also Ansar al-Sharia’s seemingly leading role and the strongly articulated popular support.

Note: This is a trial to see if there is need for weekly reporting about key security related events taking place in Libya. 

Chronology of violent incidents in Libya: 8 – 14 August 2016


09 August 2016: Counterterrorism office in Benghazi discovered and dismantled a sleeping cell of unknown “terrorist organization,” and arrested two suspects. Weapons, cash, and explosives also seized.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 3.48.48 PM.png

Bushra news agency infographic. Source: @MENASTREAM

11 August 2016: According to Bushra News Agency infographic (above), two airstrikes and four drones attacks were conducted in Benghazi. Reportedly 4 killed and 5 injured.

12 August 2016: According to Saraya media, a news outlet affiliated with Benghazi Shura Council, French drone strike targeted Ganfouda district in Benghazi.

13 August 2016: Two suspects arrested in Benghazi allegedly members of what referred to as terrorist organizations. The arrest took place east Benghazi at Boudzira area. Reportedly suspects are members of Dare’ Libya 1 and Rafallah al-Sahati.

13 August 2016: Islamic State targeted National Libyan Army (LNA) in Gawarsha area in Benghazi.

14 August 2016: A landmine explosion in Al-Gawarsha district killed 2 of Khalifa Haftar’s militiamen and injured 2. The IED targeted volunteering militiamen, who fight with Haftar’s forces, as they were advancing nearby Al-Gawarsha checkpoint.


08 – 10 August 2016: After days of fighting, Bonyan Al-Marsous, Libyan militia backed by U.S airstrikes claimed capturing several strategic locations from IS in Libya. Captured locations included Ouagadougou conference center, and the university of Sirte, both have been considered symbolic to IS. Misrata hospital reported to have received 16 dead and 93 wounded soldiers from Bonyan Al-Marsous forces as a result of Sirte clashes.

09 August 2016: Bonyan Al-Marsous team struck an IED at Sirte where the Libyan militia have been clashing with IS.

10 August 2016: Libyan Dawn Air Force (LDAF) plane reported crashed at Sirte due to technical difficulties while IS media arm Amaq claimed its fighters downed the warplane. 2 pilots killed.

13 August 2016: An Islamic State SVBIED targeted Bonyan Al-Marsous gathering near captured Ouagadougou conference center. 7 fighters allegedly killed.

14 August 2016: Bonyan Al-Marsous reported ongoing clashes at both residential districts near the waterfront.


09 August 2016: SDB and LNA reportedly clashed near the Naga oil field at Jufra. LNA sources also released photos of alleged IS fighters killed claiming to the group (IS) is supposedly behind the attack.


10 August 2016: Libyan Air Force (LAF) reportedly conducted airstrikes on ammunition depot belonging to DMSC.

Libya: Chronology of security incidents and violent clashes in Libya of 01 – 07 August period

 By Rida Lyammouri

August 8th, 2016

There are two types of Islamist militant groups operating in Libya. Local groups: Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council (BRSC), Darnah Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC), Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shurah Council (ARSC), Ansar al-Sharia Libya (AAS), Defense Brigade of Benghazi (DDB), Ajdabiya Operations Room (GATMJB). Regional groups: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (IS).

Attacks and incidents listed below are not comprehensive and do not include all violence taking place in Libya. However these are incidents occurring in strategic areas where Libyan National Army (LNA) and its Western allies [with air support mainly] are carrying operations to chase Islamist militants out of their strongholds. Most of information is gathered through open source reporting and social media, and at times it’s difficult to confirm number of casualties and actors involved in an incident.

Note: This is a trial to see if there is need for weekly reporting about key security related events taking place in Libya. 

Chronology of violent incidents in Libya: 1 – 7 August


BRSC Infographic_7AUG2016.jpg

Infographic released by an Islamist militant group with alleged damages it caused to Libyan Army led by General Haftar. Source: @MENASTREAM

01 August 2016: Libyan investigators released information about suicide bomber that targeted LNA forces July 29th in Benghazi. Suicide bomber was identified and reportedly traveled to Syria before returning to join IS in Sirte then Benghazi.

01 August 2016: Reportedly, Libyan forces arrested son of former Guantanamo detainee, Soufiane Ibn Qamou, at Wadi al-Sahl, west Tubruk.

02 August 2016: 15 LNA soldiers killed and 31 injured in a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack on LNA gathering south of Benghazi. The attack carried near Pipeline Company at al-Gawarsha area. Majliss Shurah Thuwar Benghazi (Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council) or (BRSC) claimed the attack through media arm Saraya.

02 August 2016: Military engineer injured while dismantling IEDs planted in al-Gawarsha passage, an area previously occupied by IS.

02 August 2016: LNA forces claimed to have re-captured al-Gawarsha passage west Benghazi from IS fighters.

03 August 2016: Report released by the IS in Libya showed its forces targeting LNA forces in western part of Benghazi.

05 August 2016: LNA spokesman claimed to have seized VBIED factory making and chemical called al-Doqm at Ganfouda passage west of Benghazi.

05 August 2016: LNA claimed seizing control of a flour supply warehouse in Benghazi at Ganfouda area.

07 August 2016: Head of investigation team in Benghazi reported the arrest of an IS member. However, prosecutors representative also claimed the suspect was a member of other alleged Islamist militant groups in Benghazi without specifying which groups. Suspect also revealed number of sleeping cells in Benghazi and there is an ongoing search for them.

07 August 2016: BRSC claimed to have downed an LNA surveillance drone near Amarat al-Siniya in Benghazi.

07 August 2016: Reportedly, LNA forces clashed with members of BRSC in Benghazi. BRSC pro-media outlet later released infographic with statistics of losses among General Haftar forces claiming to have destroyed 2 armored vehicles and 1 tank, in addition to killing 19 and injuring 32 LNA soldiers.


01 – 07 August 2016: U.S Africom reported to have carried out 20 airstrikes on IS in Libya.

01 August 2016: Bonyan al-Marsous reportedly seized control of Dollar district from IS at Sirte. 5 killed and 17 injured among Bonyan al-Marsous forces.

01 August 2016: Libyan Down AirForce (LDAF) carried airstrike on and destroyed an IS tank at Sirte.


01 August 2016: Omar al-Mokhtar operation room claimed to have destroyed VBIED factory making and arms warehouse in Darnah during an airstrike. The factory was located at Sayida Khadija neighborhood near Korean buildings.

02 – 03 August 2016: LNA carried airstrikes on arms depot located west of Darnah that belongs to the Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC). Reportedly target of the airstrikes was located at Sayida Khadija neighborhood.

04 August 2016: DMSC ambushed LNA forces while traveling on coastal road heading to Darnah. DMSC claimed to have killed and injured at least 15 LNA members without giving specific number.

05 August 2016: LNA carried airstrikes on armed vehicles and military equipment gathering at Wadi al-Shawa’ir in southern Darnah. “Shurah Mujahidi Darnah and its Surroundings” reportedly held the post targeted.

05 August 2016: LNA forces targeted at Dhahr al-Hamr south of Darnah. 7 LNA soldiers killed.

04 August 2016: Reportedly, heavy clashes took place at the western entrance of Darnah between LNA forces and Majlis Shurah al-Mujahideen. Clashes occurred between wadi al-Naqa and Karssat village west of Darnah.

04 August 2016: LNA air force carried airstrike on al-Khashkhash farm west of Darnah.


My Thoughts on Alleged AQIM Men Defected to IS in S. Libya!

By Rida Lyammouri

April 17th, 2016

On 10 April 2016 an article quoting Algerian security sources claimed members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) joined the so-called Islamic State (IS) in south Libya. Security investigators indicated that this was a result of existing tensions among AQIM. According to the article, 10 drug and weapons traffickers in northern Mali and southern Niger arrested recently in south Algeria reported that more than 14 terrorists from AQIM branch Grand Sahara branch under Yahya Abu al-Hammam joined IS in south Libya in mid-March 2016. The article added that the defectors were mostly Mauritanians with 4 Algerians. These defectors were not happy about who is going to replace Abdelhamid Abu Zeid who was killed in February 2013 in northern Mali.

This information doesn’t make sense and here are few reasons I could think of why on top of my head:

  • The main source is a group of drug traffickers from northern Mali and south Niger. Drug traffickers unlikely to make a difference of who is who and they are not interested to know because simply they don’t care, they are all about business and tensions among AQIM is non of their business to avoid any risks of getting in the mix. While northern Malian traffickers are more or so familiar with AQIM, traffickers from south of Niger not so much.
  • AQIM leaders are very secretive and very careful. Often there is little to no information about the group and its leaders except on what themselves wanted to report or discovered and shared by state forces. AQIM members know drug dealers are not to be trusted and will give them away to save their lives when necessary, so unlikely, even if true, even those defected to join IS in Libya will share that information with them.
  • Previous allegiances pledged by AQIM brigades that defected to IS were announced by their respective leaders. A major move coming from an AQIM brigade that is making most of the noise for the group in recent months wouldn’t go unnoticed and would have been reported by more than just 10 traffickers arrested.
  • While rumors and articles talked about concerns of IS in Libya moving south there has been no evidence to confirm that. So there is no IS branch in south Libya that the article claimed defected AQIM members have joined.
  • The replacement for Abu Zeid was named in September 2013 and was identified as Said Abou Moughatil. So if there were any tensions maybe were three years ago.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.52.55 PM.png

    Said Abou Moughatil. Source: Jeune Afrique


Mali: March 2016 Violence Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, MUJWA, and Other Security Incidents

By Rida Lyammouri

April 1st, 2016


Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating in Mali remain determined to disrupt efforts by Malian government and its partners to stabilize the country. VEOs currently operational in Mali include Ansar al-Din, the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA or MUJAO). In March however, Ansar al-Din was the most active, claiming 6 out of the 17 attacks. All groups appear to maintain foothold in their areas of operations, while attacks on neighboring countries demonstrate increased collaboration, and intention to expand, especially AQIM.

The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), French, and Malian forces will remain the main target. However VEOs will continue to target any suspected collaborators with the Malian and foreign forces, including members of armed groups, like the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA).

Since the French intervention AQIM and allies relied mainly on the use of improvised explosive devices (IED), this tactic continued in March, 9 incidents IED related attacks. Same trend was observed in recent months, and most likely to continue in coming months. AQIM and allies will also attempt to conduct attacks similar to Grand-Bassam and Ouagadougou for publicity and recruitment. Worth noting increased armed robberies in northern Mali, I recorded at least 15 armed robbery for March alone, and this likely to continue largely due to access to weapons, economic hardship among youth, armed former rebels, tribal tensions, and lack of permanent presence and regular patrols by security forces in remote areas.

Stats about March 2016 VEO attacks in Mali:

  • A total of 17 VEO related attacks.
  • Ansar al-Din claimed 6 out of the 17 attacks.
  • There were 9 attacks when IED was used. 3 against MINUSMA, 2 against Malian forces, 1 discovered by MINUSMA, 1 against Barkhane, 2 against civilians.
  • Casualties: 6 MINUSMA peacekeepers injured, 8 Malian soldiers killed and 1 injured.
  • 3 out of the 17 attacks targeted Malian security forces, either a checkpoint or a military post.
  • 2 out of the 17 attacks used rockets or mortars. 1 targeted military camp in Tessalit, and 1 targeted mobile camp of Barkhane near Kidal.
  • 1 attack on EUTM in Bamako.
  • Assassination: 1
  • Kidnapping: 1

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Libya as a Source of Weapons to Mali Through Northeast Niger

By Rida Lyammouri

March 18th, 2016

 Important: This post provides information about weapons, drugs, and other illicit trafficking seizures in Northeastern Niger between September 2014 and May 2015. Please note that information provided is taken directly from a recent Libya United Nations (UN) report published March 2016. However since the report is long I decided to summarize important information related to trafficking and violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating in the Sahel. I also included more seizures based on open-source reporting where necessary, and my own comments and analysis where necessary to provide more context.

  1. My Own Key Takeaways and Analysis Based on Information Provided at the UN Report:
  • Fighting against increased pressure from French, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and Malian forces in Mali, AQIM [and allies] will continue to seek access to weapons and explosives from Libya. Since its intervention in Mali January 2013, French forces discovered and destroyed important number of arms caches belonging to AQIM and allied groups in Northern Mali.
  • VEOs and non-state actors operating in Mali have contacts based in Libya to facilitate movement of weapons.
  • Libyan weapons still and will continue to make its way to Mali despite increased pressure by operation Barkhane in Northeastern Niger in collaboration with Nigerien forces. This could be explained by continued violent attacks in Mali throughout 2015 and early 2016. Violence in Mali was not limited to VEOs but included rival secular movements, such as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) and Malian government backed militia, Groupe d’Auto-Défense Tuareg Imghad et Alliés (GATIA). Despite peace agreement signed between armed groups and Malian government tensions remain high. Tribal tensions likely to complicate further the implementation of the peace accord.
  • Demand of weapons from non-state armed groups will also continue.
  • While security is not the main concern to Nigerien population, French forces presence in Northern Niger not only limited movement of weapons but also prevented VEOs from conducting violent attacks in the area. No major attacks took place in northern Niger since May 2013 when Mokhtar Bekmokhtar orchestrated simultaneous operations on Agadez and Arlit.
  • Communities living on the borders depend on cross-border licit trade. This likely to suffer and be limited due to French increased presence to combat movement of weapons and VEOs activities in Northeastern Niger.
  • For protection purposes organized criminal networks in charge of moving drugs through the Sahel to Europe or to the Middle East will continue to rely on weapons smuggled from Libya through southern borders.
  • Economic and financial gains through licit and illicit trafficking in Southwest Libya will remain one of key driver of tribal and domestic tensions between different groups in the area.

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