Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Suicide attacks in Libya

The Islamic State group this week carried out four suicide bombings in Libya targeting petroleum installations and other vital infrastructure

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Islamic State (IS) group this week claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings in Ras Lanouf and Al-Sidra, in the oil crescent region in central Libya, and in Zliten, west of Tripoli reports Kamel Abdallah.

The Zliten attack, using a truck bomb, was the deadliest to have hit the country since the overthrow of the former Gaddafi regime. The attacks come as Italy is trying to rally Libyan factions behind the political agreement signed in December in Skhirat and to secure support for the national unity government led by Fayez Al-Sarraj.

The truck bombing in Zliten last Thursday targeted a police training centre, leaving more than 60 people dead and wounding dozens. Most of the victims were young men. IS claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed further attacks in Libya until it has seized control of the country.

According to the IS statement, the suicide bombing was carried out by Abdullah Al-Muhajer, who drove a truck into the middle of a security forces camp in Zliten “resulting in the deaths of around 80 of them and the wounding of 150.” The statement said the operation was part of what it called the “Abul-Mughirah Al-Qahtani raid.”

The savage attack in Zliten triggered angry condemnations in Libya and abroad. On Friday, the presidential council of the national unity government made its first visit to the city to convey its condolences.

The car bombings in Ras Lanouf and Al-Sidra targeted oil terminals and killed and wounded several members of the petroleum installations’ guards. The attacks followed repeated warnings that IS would launch a sweeping assault against the oil installations in northern and central Libya.

The strategic location in the central part of the country is sparsely inhabited, and Libya’s two rival governments have no effective control over the area. Prior to these attacks, IS had seized control of the village of Bin Jawad on the road between Ajdabiya and Sirte, and used it as the base for attacks against the Al-Sidra oil terminal, 30 km away.

 Using heavy weapons, the terrorist organisation also raided facilities and set fire to petroleum storage tanks. According to the Libyan National Petroleum Organisation, 16 tanks suffered minor damage. They were similarly damaged just over a year ago during Operation Dawn, launched by the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) on 13 December 2014 to regain control over the port facilities.

Petroleum Organisation spokesman Mohamed Al-Harari said that each of the mammoth storage tanks had a 500,000-barrel capacity. He added that a “preliminary estimate” placed the total amount of crude oil lost in the fires in Al-Sidra and Ras Lanouf at between 1.5 million to two million barrels.

“Al-Sidra is no longer operable. The losses are enormous, and the repercussions of these attacks will have a great impact at home and on foreign oil companies, which will not think of returning as long as the oil fields in Libya fall within the battle zone,” he said.

Meanwhile, the presidential council of the national unity government has begun meetings to discuss arrangements for the forthcoming phase. The council is using Tunis as a temporary base until the political agreement, presidential council and members of the cabinet are approved by the House of Representatives.

The House has been unable to convene for more than three months, from the date when former UN envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon announced the composition of the presidential council in Skhirat.

Italy has intensified diplomatic efforts to secure greater support for the agreement among the Libyan factions and to rally greater international support behind the national unity government. The fledging agreement is still fragile and could run aground on heated controversies over amending the agreement and modifying the presidential council.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has announced arrangements for a second international conference on Libya set for 19 January and to be attended by representatives of the states that took part in the first Rome Conference on Libya in December.

A Foreign Ministry statement said that Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni had held telephone conversations with his Egyptian, Algerian, Qatari and Turkish counterparts to discuss the latest developments in Libya.

The statement, published on the Italian Foreign Ministry website, stressed that “concerns over the attacks should lead to a renewal of the commitment to support the formation of a government of national accord. It is only through the implementation of the Skhirat Agreement and UN Resolution 2259 that the stabilisation of Libya can start and thereby lead to an effective response to the Daesh threat,” the latter being the Arabic acronym for IS.

Italy is currently leading European and international efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis in a drive that has been supported by the US, which called for the international conference on Libya that was held in Rome in December.

Italy regards Libya as one of its strategic spheres of influence. It is also linked to western Libya, the location of the Mellitah Oil and Gas Complex, a company co-owned by the Libyan National Petroleum Organisation and the Italian oil and gas giant Eni. The complex provides Italy with most of its petroleum-based energy.

Paolo Serra, senior security advisor to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), is overseeing negotiations over the security arrangements to be employed to enable the national unity government to operate out of Tripoli.

 Since early December, Serra has held meetings with security officials and military leaders in Tripoli in the hope of convincing them to take part in the security arrangements and the protection of the internationally recognised and supported Al-Sarraj government. But his efforts have run up against strong resistance from the factions and militias that control the capital.

The second Rome Conference on Libya, on 19 January, will follow through on the recommendations of the first. There have been calls for a mini European summit in Rome dedicated solely to the Libyan situation and to granting Italy a leading position, with European backing, in the management of the crisis.

On Sunday, Nicola Latorre, head of the Italian Senate’s defence committee, urged greater Italian support for the Libyan political agreement and the new government headed by Al-Sarraj. He called for an extraordinary summit meeting to be held in Rome to be attended by the leaders of Germany, France and Britain. A new phase in Libyan political initiatives needs to be set in motion, he said.

In remarks cited by the Libyan Bawabat Al-Wasat (Central Gateway) website, Latorre stressed that the attack in Zliten and the escalation of IS operations against petroleum installations in Libya underscores the need to develop a plan for joint European action in Libya. He added that for Italy to act unilaterally would be a mistake and could have adverse consequences.

Italy hopes to create a core European action group together with Paris, Berlin and London and to obtain explicit Russian-US backing for any future action within the framework of a permanent coordinating mechanism in Rome to support the Libyan government and to promote stability in the country, protect petroleum facilities, and tighten surveillance on the borders and check illegal immigration. In this drive, Rome has benefitted from strong US support for its positions on the Libyan crisis.

In Libya itself, uncertainty continues to prevail after the end of the 20-day deadline stipulated in Article 8 of the additional protocols to the Skhirat Agreement regarding appointments to the sovereign political and military posts in the new government.

A cloud of uncertainty also hovers over military leader Khalifa Hiftar, who no longer has an official capacity, in accordance with the Skhirat Agreement. The presidential council now has a 20-day grace period to fill the new vacancies in the sovereign posts.

Al-Ahram Weekly has learned that Jordanian diplomat Mu’in Shrim, who serves in the political department of UNSMIL, submitted a proposal to either extend the deadline or create a military council under the presidential council, but his proposal was rejected.

One House of Representatives member who is among the MPs that have been boycotting the assembly, Abdel-Rahman Al-Saweihli, also a nominee for the head of the state council, has called for amendments to the presidential council and the political agreement.

The UN has yet to respond, however, and the parties that still oppose the agreement continue to press their demands to amend it.

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