A leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), referred to as Abu Talha Al-Libi, was gunned down in an assault on his compound on January 18th. Abu Talha was holed up with other insurgents in an area called Al-Qarda Al-Shati, close to Sabha in southern Libya.
AQIM, formerly identified as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), split from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the primary Islamist group fighting in the Algerian Civil War, in 1998. In 2006, the GSPC turned into a formal branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) and transformed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group is renowned for kidnapping Westerners for ransom in North Africa and is an active participant in the drug-, arms-, and human-trafficking trade in the region. Through these illicit activities, AQIM has become one of the wealthiest radical organizations in the world.
With stockpiles of weapons staged throughout the country and no laws or government in place, the southern region of Libya has become a breeding ground for radical groups following the downfall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Libya shares its borders with some of Africa’s most underdeveloped countries, which makes it subject to regular cross-border attacks. Mali is one of those countries; not only does it have numerous socioeconomic and internal political issues to contend with, but it’s being overwhelmed by several radical groups. Niger is another state located on the Libyan border. Security forces in Niger are stretched and undermanned given their present situation, leaving the border to Libya wide open. Geographically, the border is almost impossible to manage anyway. All of this contributes to southern Libya being the one-stop shop for all things bad in sub-Saharan Africa.
Abu Talha attempted to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi in 1996 but failed and was arrested. Freed in the Libyan revolution, he fled to Syria in 2013, where he assumed command of foreign extremist fighters who opposed the Assad regime. The al-Nusra Front (now known as Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham) owes its foundation to this guy. He assisted them in Syria and helped the organization to function in its early days.
Earlier last Wednesday, January 23, forces loyal to Field Officer Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, began a military operation to clear out radical insurgents in southern Libya. They targeted not only the radical groups but criminal organizations that assist these groups in the region. The operation went door-to-door in some areas. This ultimately resulted in the death of Abu Talha and two others thought to be Egyptian.
The Libyan National Army has hailed the operation a success, with many armed groups standing down and handing over key police and military institutions. This will further allow Haftar and his men to secure petroleum facilities and stabilize the country’s economy.