Overview: In 2012, Libya was marked by grave insecurity, most apparent in the September 11 terrorist attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three staff members. The prevalence of loose weapons, the continued ability of extra-governmental militias to act with impunity, the country’s porous borders, and the lack of government capacity to apply the rule of law outside of Tripoli contributed to this insecurity.
Despite these challenges, on July 7, the Transitional National Council peacefully transferred power to a new, democratically elected parliament, the General National Congress. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his cabinet have prioritized efforts to strengthen and centralize national security institutions, integrate and disarm armed militias, and confront criminal and terrorist groups that have taken advantage of the security vacuum. This government has recognized that continued instability threatens Libya’s democratic transition and economic future.
The United States remains committed to Libya’s democratic transition and focused on Libya’s insecurity and the need to support Libya’s government in its efforts to address it. The State Department and USAID have provided funding to implementers who support Libya’s emerging civil society, advised Libya’s new political leaders, and empowered minority communities as they seek to understand and participate in the democratic transition, particularly the drafting of a constitution that denounces violence and ensures the rights of all Libyans.
2012 Terrorist Incidents: The list of incidents below highlights some of the most significant terrorist attacks of the year. Violence was particularly prevalent in the East and in Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of Qadhafi loyalists.
- On February 6, gunmen allegedly killed five refugees in a Tripoli camp.
- On May 22, assailants launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s building in Benghazi. The violent Islamist extremist group Brigades of Captive Omar Abdul Rahman claimed responsibility for the attack. The ICRC evacuated Benghazi in mid-July.
- On June 4, approximately 200 armed fighters from the al-Awfea Brigade surrounded the international airport in Tripoli. The gunmen drove armed trucks onto the tarmac and surrounded several planes, which forced the airport to cancel all fights. The armed men were demanding the release of one of their military leaders who was being held by Tripoli’s security forces.
- On June 6, violent extremists attacked the U.S. facilities in Benghazi with an improvised explosive device (IED). The group claimed that the attack was in retaliation for the assassination of Abu-Yahya al-Libi, the second highest ranking leader of al-Qa’ida.
- On June 11, a convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya was attacked in Benghazi.
- On June 12, assailants attacked the ICRC office in Misrata, wounding one.
- In August, there was a series of attacks against security personnel and facilities, including the bombing of the Benghazi military intelligence offices on August 1, a car bombing near the Tripoli military police offices on August 4, and the explosion of three car bombs near the Interior Ministry and other security buildings in Tripoli on August 19, killing at least two. Libyan security officials arrested 32 members of an organized network loyal to Qadhafi.
- On August 10, Army General Hadiya al-Feitouri was assassinated in Benghazi.
- On August 20, a car belonging to an Egyptian diplomat was blown up near his home in Benghazi.
- On September 11, terrorists attacked the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three staff members.
- On October 13, the Benghazi police chief survived an assassination attempt.
- On November 21, Benghazi security chief Faraj al-Drissi was assassinated.
- On December 16 and 20, eight people were killed when violent extremists attacked Benghazi police stations.
- On December 31, attackers threw an IED at a Coptic church in the city of Dafniya. The explosion resulted in the death of two Egyptian men and wounded two others.
- On December 31, an IED exploded outside the headquarters of the public prosecutor in Benghazi. No one was killed or injured, but the explosion caused damage to the building.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Following the September 11 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, senior Libyan authorities assured their U.S. counterparts that security was their top priority. In light of this and many other security incidents throughout the year, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his cabinet (seated on November 14) focused on bolstering the security sector in Libya and extending the reach of governmental security institutions beyond Tripoli. Significant challenges remained, however, and although the new Libyan authorities intended to make immediate improvements to the security situation, particularly in the east, they were unable to do so as security and justice sector institutions had been severely weakened following 42 years of mismanagement under Qadhafi, and eight months of violent conflict.
While the Transitional National Council did not feel it had the mandate to make lasting legislation, the General National Congress and Prime Minister Zeidan have been more aggressively confronting the security situation in Libya. Yet any legislation seeking to limit the power of heavily-armed, extra-governmental militias has been difficult to enforce, and Libyan judges did not hear criminal cases for fear it could lead to revenge attacks against them. Police and military personnel and facilities were the frequent targets of attacks by pro-Qadhafi and violent Islamist extremist groups, who fiercely resisted any efforts by the government to exert its authority. Many members of the militias that continue to undermine the authority of the army and police refused to join these institutions because they claimed Qadhafi-era officials continued to occupy their ranks.
The proliferation of weapons from Libya across the country’s borders was of concern. The EU developed plans to provide significant border security assistance to the Libyan authorities, and throughout 2012, the United States worked with the Government of Libya to develop a complementary border security assistance package of its own. A delegation of Libyan officials from the Ministry of Defense and Customs Authority visited the United States in mid-September, during which they expressed interest in U.S. border security best practices, and American border security technology. Nevertheless, implementation of these programs has been slow, and the Libyan authorities lacked the basic training and equipment necessary to monitor their vast land and maritime borders, and to control the flow of people and goods through their airports. Violent extremists continued to exploit these weaknesses, which threatened to destabilize the Middle East and North Africa region.
The United States will cooperate with the EU and other international donors to provide further, complementary assistance in this vein, and the Libyan authorities have indicated that they will intensify cooperation with their neighbors, especially Algeria and Tunisia, to exert better control over their shared borders.
The United States has also provided assistance to help Libya professionalize its security sector institutions, as well as stem the proliferation of conventional weapons, and secure and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.
Countering Terrorist Finance: Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. However, Libya has yet to undergo a mutual evaluation. (Libya’s mutual evaluation assessment was scheduled for March 2011, but was cancelled due to security concerns.) After the fall of the Qadhafi regime, there was little information or reliable data on the scope of Libya’s anti-money laundering/counterterrorist regime. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: The United States has prioritized assistance to Libya’s security and justice sectors since the end of the 2011 revolution. Libyan President Mohamed al Magariaf participated in the 67th UNGA in the wake of the September attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, and vowed to work with the international community, especially the United States, to address weaknesses in its security and justice sectors. On December 17, Libya’s international partners met in London, during which the Libyan delegation articulated its security sector assistance priorities, and the international community agreed to coordinate assistance through the UN Support Mission in Libya.
Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: In 2012, member states of the AU, of which Libya is a member, signed a joint venture to create the African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT). ACSRT’s broad goals include assisting AU member states to develop strategies for preventing and countering terrorism.
United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2012 – Libya, 30 May 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51a86e8018.html [accessed 4 June 2013]