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Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: LIbya

(February 27, 2023)

Overview:  Libyan government officials continued to work with U.S. counterparts to combat terrorism, although fractured security institutions limited direct cooperation.  Following the failure of the self-styled Libyan National Army’s (LNA’s) military assault on western Libya in 2019-20, UN-facilitated talks selected a new nominally unified interim executive authority, the Government of National Unity (GNU), in March, with a mandate to lead the country to national elections, which were ultimately postponed.

Despite the political uncertainty, terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have been unable to significantly regroup.  While terrorist groups control no territory in Libya and are significantly degraded in terms of numbers and capacity, they remain a threat.  Elements of the GNU are reliable and willing U.S. counterterrorism partners, although the GNU’s capacity to eliminate terrorist safe havens, counter terrorist financing, deter the flow of FTFs, and ensure effective counterproliferation efforts across Libya’s territory was limited.  The LNA countered terrorism in the East and South of the country, but its counterterrorism gains were limited to areas under its direct control.

2021 Terrorist Incidents:  Significant terrorist incidents in Libya in 2021 included the following:

  • In June, ISIS claimed responsibility for a VBIED suicide attack on a security checkpoint in Sebhā.  When local police manning the checkpoint stopped and approached the vehicle, the driver reportedly detonated the VBIED, killing himself and two officers.
  • In August, a Sudanese national affiliated with ISIS attempted to conduct a VBIED attack against a security checkpoint manned by the LNA’s 128th Brigade in the town of Zellah in Al Jufra.  The LNA claimed it shot the attacker before the VBIED detonated, and there were no other reported causalities.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  The GNU retained the Government of National Accord’s CT strategy and its national CT coordinator.  In practice, however, under the tenure of the GNU, coordination between relevant authorities still largely occurs on an ad hoc basis, and an implementation plan for the new strategy has yet to be promulgated.  Throughout 2021 the GNU conducted CT operations in the country, and the LNA countered terrorism in areas under its control.

Libya did not pass or implement any counterterrorism legislation in 2021.  Libya lacks a comprehensive counterterrorism law, although the Libyan penal code (under Title 2, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 170, and Title 2, Chapter 2, Article 207) criminalizes offenses that may threaten national security, including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts.

Libya has ratified the African Union’s (AU’s) Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws.  The GNU continued to seek international support to combat ISIS-Libya and AQIM.

Despite Libya’s disjointed security institutions and ongoing political strife, the GNU undertook operations to disrupt terrorist groups.  In September, the GNU announced the arrest of senior ISIS leader Mubarak al-Kharmi along with two other militants in the western city of Bani Walid.  That same month, LNA forces captured suspected ISIS member Ali al-Ajili al-Hasnawi in Brak al-Shati.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Libya is a member of MENAFATF.  Libya is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS CIFG.  In November, the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) participated in a detailed gap analysis of the Libyan Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Law No. 1013 of 2017 and identified numerous strategic weaknesses.  The CBL also contributed to the development of a regulatory framework to help ensure better compliance with international standards and applicable regulations governing anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism.

In December, the CBL initiated the development of a set of instructions for banks and financial institutions that offer accounts to nonprofit organizations.  The instructions aim to expand the awareness and capacity of these banks and institutions regarding tracking and reporting on possible money laundering and terrorist financing activities.

Countering Violent Extremism:  There were no changes in 2021.

International and Regional Cooperation:  The European Union and the UK continued working to support the development of the Libyan National CT Strategy under the CT Coordinator.  Libya is a member of the United Nations, the AU, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League.

Source: Country Reports on Terrorism 2021, U.S. Department of State, (February 27, 2023).