Tunisia atrocity can be traced back to Western bombing of Libya

Libya is now a springboard for groups such as ISIS to carry out atrocities in neighboring countries

Nabila Ramdani
Nabila Ramdani - Tunis, Al Arabiya
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The aim of the NATO-led bombing raids on Libya four years ago was to “protect civilians.” It was the start of the Arab Spring, and Western leaders believed that Libyans were in mortal danger from their long-term dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The multi-billion-dollar aerial war against him lasted seven months and, following his demise in Oct. 2011, the country was in utter chaos, with up to 30,000 people killed.

The deceit behind another disastrous Western intervention in the affairs of a Muslim state came into sharp focus in Tunisia this month with the murders of at least 22 men and women, mostly Western civilians.

Within a day of the atrocity at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, it was confirmed that the two terrorists responsible had been trained at a militia camp in Libya. Tunisian Security Minister Rafik Chelly said there were now so many jihadist bases in Libya that would-be killers could choose one according to which foreign country they came from.

The “Tunisian camps” are mainly in Sabratha, Benghazi and Derna. A vast arsenal of weapons is available, most left over from the Arab Spring, when the West supplied rebels with everything from rocket launchers to high-powered assault rifles. They have since been used by rival militias, including radical Islamist ones, to murder thousands more civilians in a barbaric period of ethnic cleansing.

Victims of the ongoing violence have included U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He was killed in 2012 alongside three fellow Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which would have been inconceivable under Qaddafi. Assassinations are now a daily occurrence, along with the slaughter of pro-democracy protestors, kidnappings, and the seizure by warlords of every kind of vital asset, from airports to oil refineries.

Peace talks last month achieved nothing, as bombers from Libya’s internationally-recognized government ran air raids over a Tripoli airport. The country may be forced to cease all oil production after suspected jihadists with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked three oilfields.

The U.N. special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, said: “Unless Libya’s leaders act quickly and decisively, the risks to their country’s national unity and territorial integrity are real and imminent. There are two options: a political accord or destruction. Destruction is not an option.”

Worse still, Libya is now a springboard for groups such as ISIS to carry out atrocities in neighboring countries. The murderous siege of the In-Amenas gas plant in Algeria in 2013 was launched from Libya and northern Mali, which has been engulfed by a war of its own since the removal of Qaddafi. Many of the Al-Qaeda insurgents trying to take power there are armed to the teeth with Libyan weapons, and receive their training in its vast deserts.

Mali was a flourishing democracy until tribesmen displaced by the fall of Qaddafi flooded the country. These included Tuaregs, who had made up a large part of the Libyan army, and radical Islamists. Their violence rippled out into Niger, where looted heavy weapons are now in the hands of fundamentalist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last year.

Aly Annali, a colonel in the Malian army, signed a preliminary peace treaty with Malian northern separatists in Algiers where, referring to Libya, he blamed “Western bombing and the proliferation of weapons” during the Arab Spring for the terrorist violence spreading across the region. Annali said it was having a “devastating effect” on countries such as Tunisia and Niger.

Qaddafi was once rightly viewed as an international pariah linked with human rights atrocities and the sponsorship of international terrorism. However, he initiated a period of détente in the early 2000s, and Libya was slowly democratizing of its own accord.

Just as crucially it was opening for business, with hundreds of American, British and French companies moving into a country awash with energy wealth. A clear sign of its potential was its growing trade links with France, which were supposedly why President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed Qaddafi, his “Brother Leader” friend, to the Elyseé Palace for a state visit in 2007.

Now there are well-sourced allegations that Qaddafi was illegally paying Sarkozy millions in cash to fund the French politician’s successful election campaign that same year. Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing, but an enquiry is underway, running parallel with others into alleged corruption.

This backs the view that the NATO strikes on Qaddafi were not in support of freedom and democracy, but were aimed at destroying evidence that might be used to incriminate Sarkozy.
The French air force infamously started bombing Libyan government forces before the U.N. mandate for action came into force, highlighting a desperation to see Qaddafi destroyed as quickly as possible. His compound and convoys he was travelling in were also regularly hit.

There is no coherent ruling authority left to fill the vacuum. Political and administrative organizations have all but collapsed, and far more prisoners are being held without trial than under Qaddafi. Islamist terrorists roam the country with impunity, threatening the entire region.

ISIS is now openly boasting of an attack on Rome, with Italy just a short hop across the Mediterranean from Libya. Refugees, including would-be terrorists, are flooding across the sea to Europe as illegal migrants from a country that is rapidly turning into a new Somalia.

Unlike the long, brutal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not a single Western soldier or pilot was lost in the relatively short intervention in Libya. However, its negative repercussions are becoming just as controversial.

ISIS warned in a propaganda video that the Tunisia attack was just “the first drop of rain” in a country heralded as the only success story of the Arab Spring. ISIS has promised that more Libyan-sourced guns and grenades will be used to wreak carnage.

Senior Tunisian politicians are being joined by ones abroad, including countries such as France, in blaming the misconceived, cynical bombing of Libya for this development. Interviewed about the Tunisian museum attack, former French presidential candidate François Bayrou said his country’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 “created a chaos which has aggravated all the other conflicts in the region.”

As Algeria’s Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz told me last week: “There were aspects of the Arab Spring revolts which played a big part in causing instability across the Middle East and North Africa. This has created a favorable environment for the proliferation and dissemination of criminal and terrorist groups. The consequences of the bombing of Libya remain a cause of great concern.”

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