Beheadings Show ISIS Has Formed a New Power Center
Policy + Politics

Beheadings Show ISIS Has Formed a New Power Center

As the Libyan civil war rages on between two competing governments, Islamic and secular, ISIS has found a foothold in the North African nation. After taking control of the city of Derna in October 2014 and the town of al-Nofaliya earlier this month, ISIS has just captured the city of Sirte, the hometown of former dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

On Friday, ISIS militants broke into the city council and ordered all its members to leave. Other ISIS militants took over two radio stations in the city and did the same to their staff. Then they started broadcasting ISIS chants in addition to the words of a man named Abu Mohammed al-Baghdadi, who claimed he is a spokesman for the group and called people to declare allegiance to ISIS.

Related: How ISIS Could Drag the U.S. Into a Ground Fight

ISIS members gave a deadline to the local passport department to clear the building of people's records. A campaign started to separate men from women in the few operating government offices and hospitals.

These developments in Sirte come as ISIS in Libya released a grisly video showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were kidnapped last month in the city. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ordered an urgent evacuation of all Egyptians from Libya and bombed ISIS encampments in the country.

Earlier this month, ISIS took over the town of Nofaliya near Sirte. A convoy of 40 heavily armed vehicles toured the city, ordering the residents to repent and pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self appointed Caliph of ISIS. A man named Ali Al-Qarqaa was appointed as an Emir of the city.

Last October, hundreds of extremists pledged allegiance to ISIS in the city of Derna. A convoy of 60 cars participated in parade afterward. A month later, Baghdadi acknowledged the Libyan branch as a new Wilaya (state) of ISIS.

Related: The Perverted, Powerful Logic Behind ISIS’s Burned Pilot

Libya has descended increasingly into anarchy since the Arab Spring uprising in February 2011 against the dictator Muammar al-Qaddhafi. As in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, ISIS exploited the Libyan conflict to increase its presence in the country. After Qaddafi's regime was toppled in August 2011, a transnational council governed the country. Soon, the many factions of rebels who fought Qaddafi established themselves as undisciplined militias, making impossible the task of ruling and reconstructing the oil rich country of 6 million people.

In July 2012, Libyans elected their first parliament and a new government was formed. But the problem of the militias escalated and violence overwhelmed the country. By May 2014, the continuing violence between the militias and a struggle for power between the internationally recognized secular government and another competing Muslim Brotherhood government had escalated into another civil war. This sort of chaos is fertile ground for ISIS, and the terror group has capitalized on it and extended its reach to yet another part of the Arab world.

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