Suspected Islamic State (IS) militants targeted the Fuqaha police station killing four, including the son of the Municipal Council’s head, and kidnapping at least nine others at night on 28 Oct. There were reports of a suspected IS convoy consisting of 25 armed vehicles moving into Fuqaha prior to the attack. At the time of writing, IS has yet to claim responsibility. Initial reports speculate the attack was fueled by the arrest of two prominent IS militants on 16 Oct. The attack, especially the kidnapping of locals, will contribute to already growing local calls for a Libyan National Army (LNA) intervention in the region and would give more legitimacy to the recently-announced “Murzuq Basin” operation.
The presence of 25 vehicles, if confirmed, would stand as a high number relatively compared with standard IS tactics to employ smaller groups in similar attacks. This could possibly lend credence to an alternative theory suggesting Chadian and/or Sudanese foreign elements were possibly involved. However, should IS claim responsibility for the attack, the 25- vehicle figure would clearly underline the importance and priority given to the offensive by the group. While IS militants are known to operate unhindered and with freedom of movement in the Jufra national district, this is usually in the form of convoys of small armed groups of militants in potential reconnaissance missions.
Although the threat posed by IS in-country is often overblown and the group does not appear to possess the local support required to expand its territorial foothold, multiple factors would facilitate the transition from a near-dormant threat to a more active one in the medium term. Whispering Bell assesses the threat posed by IS will be determined in part by its ability as an organization to feed off an environment fraught with political uncertainty and ahead of planned elections. Even in a scenario in which elections are a success in Libya, it is highly likely the outcome will be contested. Consequently, IS would exploit rifts between factions losing seat and potential winners of both presidential and/or municipal elections.
On the political front, the absence of a concrete military unification agreement from the Cairo meetings corroborates Whispering Bell’s assessment that actors are adopting a “wait and see” approach ahead of the Palermo conference on 12-13 Nov. Despite no official confirmation, Haftar’s participation in the conference would appear to be secured, especially following the general’s visit to Rome and meeting with Italian PM Giuseppe Conte. According to Italian media reports, Conte discussed a crisis resolution plan drawn up by Ghassan Salame, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
Overall, the South will remain a source of instability, setting the stage for increased GNA/LNA competition. France and Chad are likely strong advocates of an LNA presence in the South following the 24 Oct ministerial meeting held in Ndjamena to strengthen cross-border security between Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Libya. Meanwhile, the GNA approved a budget for security provision in the South. A new committee on security and military affairs was formed with the approval of several ministers, including the Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashagha, and the Minister of Finance, Faraj Bumoutari.