By Joseph Hammond
A startling claim is buried within a routine new United Nations report: A Palestinian militant group is operating in Libya.
The Panel of Experts on Libya, a United Nations working group, announced that its years-long investigation confirmed longstanding Libyan claims regarding “the presence of Palestinian military experts in Tripoli.”
The report states that although a Palestinian official interviewed by the Panel denied any activity in Libya, “he confirmed that eight members of his faction, who were members of the Palestinian diaspora in Libya, had been arrested in Tripoli in the course of 2016. The Panel is still investigating the case.”
The U.N. report released last month is the latest piece in of evidence suggesting a Palestinian terror group is fighting in Libya. U.N. representatives in New York declined to comment on the matter when I reached out, and its representatives in Libya were not available for comment.
The U.N. report also concludes that efforts to prevent other foreign fighters from entering Libya has failed. It states that ISIS terrorists remain active in Libya and remain in contact with their colleagues in Syria. The report also describes an escalating role for mercenary forces in the conflict.
The Libyan Civil war has raged since the disputed election held there in 2014. The clash is ongoing between multiple factions, ranging from local militias to large coalitions that aspire to rule the country. Nominally, the Government of National Accord is Libya’s official government. However, despite recognition by the United Nations and the United States, it remains militarily weak. The General National Congress (GNC) has been supported by Qatar and Turkey.
The GNC is opposed by the Libyan National Army (LNA), the nominal armed-wing of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives which also claims to be Libya’s legitimate government. The LNA has enjoyed the support of Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates who are concerned about the role of armed Islamist groups in Libya.
The United Nations report appears to vindicate the claim of several Libyan factions that Palestinian militants are active in Libya. Ahmed Al-Mismari, a spokesperson for the LNA, told the media earlier this month that Hamas was receiving support from Qatar for its military operations in Libya. An LNA-linked Twitter account released an alleged Qatari diplomatic document on June 7 in an effort to bolster that claim. The document, dated to 2012, suggests that the Qatari armed forces were fighting in Libya.
To further bolster their Hamas claim, LNA released photos on Twitter which they claim show headbands from the armed wing of Hamas found in Benghazi. Also, earlier this year an alleged Hamas spy was arrested in Benghazi while spying on the LNA, according to Arabic-language press reports.
Libya is home to a sizeable Palestinian diaspora. There are roughly 20,000 Palestinian refugees in Libya according to UNHCR. Concern regarding Palestinian fighters in the conflict led to the internationally recognized government in 2015 banning Palestinians, along with Syrians and Sudanese, from even entering the country.
However, the very fact that a United Nations report would discuss Palestinian militants in Libya suggests how the civil war there has become a regional conflict, which as the recent terrorist attack in Manchester suggests is already affecting Europe. The United Nations report notes the conflict is drawing in mercenaries from as far away as Chad and Darfur.
Indeed, some of the combatants in conflict have traveled from even farther afield, with ISIS terrorists relocating to Libya in recent years in order to create a fallback position, should the terrorist group suffer defeat in Iraq and Syria. ISIS forces in Libya may be regrouping following the fall of Sirte, but their regional aspirations remain alive. The report also mentions that, according to Nigerien authorities, ISIS in Libya has developed an overland smuggling link with Boko Haram in Nigeria.
In April, President Trump downplayed a possible U.S. role in Libya. Saying the “U.S. has enough roles” in a press-conference. However, in light of the United Nations report and in the interest of counterterrorism efforts, the conflict in Libya deserves greater attention from American and international policymakers interested in ensuring greater regional and global security.
Joseph Hammond is a senior contributor at the American Media Institute.