On Sunday, April 19th, 2015, elements aligning themselves with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya released yet another video depicting the gruesome killings of those they are calling Ethiopian Christians. It came packaged just how the ‘Boogeymen of the Middle East’ wanted it to be: with a masked, pistol-wielding spokesperson threatening fire-and-brimstone-like prophecies in a long, drawn-out statement. The main effort of his auditory assault focused on convincing the non-believers of the world that these men failed to not only convert to Islam from Christianity, but also failed to pay a ‘special tax’ as prescribed in accordance with their understanding of the Quran.
Two different prisoner video locations were edited together to bring the latest snuff film to 29 minutes in length. In the end, of course, both groups of prisoners were either gunned down in the desert or along a sunny coastal beach. The latter group endured the added torture of having a blade or hacksaw tearing apart the flesh from their very necks while they screamed, gagging on blood and seawater until dead.
The scene, like all the others ISIS loves to release for maximum shock value, is unfortunately nothing new. And therefore, sadly, the method offers little analytical value. But what is of interest is the video depicting the locations of both killings. The sunny locale is somewhere in the eastern Barka providence or the southwestern part of the Fazzen providence, which ends along the border of Niger and Algeria. What makes this so interesting is that there are scattered reports revealing that, not only are ISIS fighters in and around these border towns and cities, but they have extensive training camps and recruitment centers within them as well.
The fall of Derna
After the fallout of the Arab Spring movement, Libya went from protests and demonstrations to violent sectarian clashes, and ultimately a brutal ongoing civil war—just like the rest of North Africa and parts of the Middle East found themselves in at the beginning of 2012. One such example on the international radar is the exceptionally brutal civil war in Syria, where the world was first introduced to the Islamic State (or ‘Daash’, a disparaging local moniker). ISIS made a name for itself in the the Syrian War through its seemingly sadistic pleasure gained by violence and inflicting pain.
The West seemed to possess equal parts fascination and disgust with this new terror group. With every video, their shadowy image grew. But that violence cost lives on both sides, and Syria slowly became a death sentence to the foreign fighters of ISIS. The jihad was tough there. Toward the end of 2014, Libya was on the brink of full-on destabilizing civil war. Again. Two of the largest Sunni militias in Derna, at the urging of the newly formed Islamic Youth Shura Council—comprised primarily of returning Libyan ISIS fighters—retired their style of ‘whack-a-block’ urban warfare that cost the lives of more civilians than militants, and pledged themselves to the Islamic State in September of that year, becoming the first representation of ISIS in Libya.
On October 18th, the U.S. State Department published a joint statement on Libya by the governments of France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The statement lists a number of concerns and condemnations such as: “We condemn the crimes of Ansar al-Sharia entities, and the ongoing violence in communities across Libya, including Tripoli and its environs. Libya’s hard-fought freedom is at risk if Libyan and international terrorist groups are allowed to use Libya as a safe haven.” All of this has culminated in more sanctions, asset seizures, and ‘no-fly’ lists.
Of course, this fell on irreverent ears, as ISIS’s local Islamic Shura Council leadership running the city of Derna treated the joint letter as a “Dear Abby” advice piece instead of an admonition. On October 31st, they did the opposite of what was so eloquently demanded, and pledged the full support of the militia in the city of Derna to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State. News that Derna had officially been ‘liberated’ by ISIS militants began to hit the wires in November.
SOFREP’s Editor-in-chief Jack Murphy was near the Syrian/Kurdistan border, in a former Chinese oil company’s compound (YPG re-tasked) as the news hit. Who better than him to ask about the reaction that day. “I was sitting on the floor of a CHU in Syria,” Jack recalled, “when a British foreign volunteer with the YPG showed me footage of Derna falling to ISIS.” Jack went on to state that he felt shocked and perplexed to actually see the flag of ISIS being hoisted in Derna. After massive ISIS losses were attributed to the Jezza and Kobani battlefronts, most of the international community shared Mr. Murphy’s sentiments. “ISIS was spreading through the Middle East like a virus, and watching it infect Derna was upsetting to say the least. Derna has always been a traditional hotbed of extremism, and in fact, if you look at the per-capita statistics, Derna was one of the largest suppliers of foreign fighters sent to kill coalition troops in Iraq.”
Since November 2014, Derna has been an ISIS stronghold and an encampment for newly recruited fighters—both locals and foreigners. Boats controlled by ISIS routinely leave for Syria full of foreign fighters. ISIS, having run into what looks to be manageable resistance, has still expanded their reach outward to the west, past Benghazi, into the southern regions of Libya, and toward the Egyptian border.
Reports of ISIS militias having training camps in southern Libyan towns such as Ghat, which lies along the Algerian/Niger borders, have begun to surface, as well as news of Daash being garrisoned just east of there in the south central town of Sabha as recently as February of 2015. There have even been reports that ISIS has camps in the Tataween or the ‘Tatooine’—the local name for southern Tunisia. Between you and me, I doubt these jihadis are just lookin’ to bullseye womp rats in their T-16s out there.
These locations are situated in what’s known as the Fezzan providence, one of the locations where the latest ISIS butcher video was said to have been filmed. Portions of the video are spliced from what looks to be a desert location. It’s entirely feasible that this video could have been produced between the towns of Ghat and Sabha that reside within the arid Fezzan providence. The other part of the video, which has bright, sunny beaches as its sadistic backdrop, were—according to Daash’s own media outlet—shot on location in the Barka providence in eastern Libya. Derna is in the Barka providence, and this isn’t the first beheading video this providence may have hosted, either.
The Egyptians get ‘dodgy’ when it comes to the topic of jihadism and radical Islam. In fact, they prefer to have nothing linking them to it or indicating their potential support of it. So in February of 2015, Egypt, with ISIS knocking on their eastern border, considered a military show of force along the border as a deterrent against further aggressive expansion the Islamic State may have been contemplating. ISIS answered their threat with the kidnapping and beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians. On a bright sunny beach. This led Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to “open a line of communications” with Daash. This leads to the latest victims in the video: the Ethiopian Christians.
For some, getting past the word ‘Christian’ is impossible. Some see the context it’s in and it becomes like a gut punch. But look at it for what it is designed to do: incite an emotional response. It’s designed to scare the West and its religious base. It’s designed to drum up outcry and a demand for action against these villains. It works, and they know it.
The West has proven that it’s a viable tactic rooted in psychology. Daash likes to send messages. The killing of the Egyptians can be chalked up to nothing other than their brand of a show of force. But it sent a message to Egypt that opened lines of communication. So, is the Islamic State attempting to send a message to the African Union headquartered in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa? Are they letting them know they are now setting up shop with one of the many militias along the periphery of Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan, Kenya, or even Somalia?
Or were these latest victims just poor, random drifters caught up in a conflict not their own? Ethiopia has long been admired and praised by the West for its hardline stance against extremism and Islamic terrorism. The main focus of their fight in recent years has been al-Shabaab in Somalia. With the majority of the ground troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) being Ethiopian, could these latest murders be a visual confirmation of not only being in the Ethiopian government’s battle space, but a ‘head nod’ to al-Shabaab on a potential partnership as well?
If we are going to take into consideration the latest intelligence dropped on the world that the Islamic State playbook is stacked to spread their totalitarianism by basically opening up franchises globally under the guise of an Islamic caliphate, then we need to take seriously the reports going as far back as October 2014 that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab and the Tunisia-based Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia have been considering throwing their support behind the Islamic State.
With al-Shabaab’s recent expansion into Kenya—possibly as far down as Tanzania and to Ansar al-Sharia, Tunisia—setting up training camps from the Jebel ech Chaambi mountain ranges to the ‘Tatooine’ camps in the south, ISIS has proven they are regaining strength and real estate. The jihad is easier in Africa. There’s not a whole lot of that constant bombing and shelling and dying from coalition fighter bombers that you’ve gotta worry about there.
(Featured image courtesy of patdollard.com)