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Libya: Lift Arms Embargo, Let Us Fight Extremists


A girl holds up a poster with pictures of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State in Libya as protesters gather in a gesture to show their solidarity in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Amman, February 17, 2015.

Libya’s foreign minister asked the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to lift an arms embargo against his government to help it fight armed groups and Islamic extremists who are battling for control of the country and its oilfields.

Mohamed Elhadi Dayri told an emergency meeting of the 15-nation council that Libya’s legitimate authorities need the embargo lifted so they can rebuild the national army and its capacity to fight terrorist groups, including Ansar al-Sharia and Islamic State.

“We also reaffirm that if we fail to have arms provided to us and training provided for our army, this can only play into the hands of the extremists," he said. "This will help ramp up the activities in Libya, and this will have a negative repercussion on the entire region and, thereby, global security.”

Dayri said Libya was not asking for international intervention to deal with these groups, but had asked neighbor Egypt for military support.

Egypt has previously bombed militia strongholds in Libya, and on Monday it carried out retaliatory targeted airstrikes over the eastern port city of Derna, which Islamic State seized late last year. Those strikes followed Islamic State's release of a video showing the apparent beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach,

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called the massacre of the Egyptians in Libya "a vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed support for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Libyan government. He further suggested a naval blockade to prevent militias and armed groups in areas outside government control from acquiring more weaponry.

He said Egypt would not hesitate in confronting the terrorist threat and would provide military assistance to Libya.

After the meeting, the minister told reporters that while Egypt fully supports ongoing U.N. efforts to facilitate inclusive political dialogue among the Libyan parties, a political settlement alone would not eradicate the terrorists.

“This is a fight against terrorism, and this is not a political dilemma that somehow will magically create a situation where terrorist activity on Libyan territory will disappear once that we have achieved success,” he said.

He said the international community should fight the terrorists in Libya the same way they are in Syria and Iraq. In those countries, a U.S.-led international coalition has been carrying out targeted airstrikes for six months against strategic Islamic State sites.

Shoukry said council member Jordan would circulate a draft resolution among members Wednesday for discussion. It was expected to stress the need to provide support and assistance to the legitimate Libyan authorities and call for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Libyan National Army.

Risks of intervention

Four years after the NATO-backed overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, analysts say, lawlessness is breeding chaos throughout Libya.

Across the Mediterranean, Italy is debating military action. Speaking Wednesday, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged a collective global effort, saying deterioration of the Libyan situation must force a change in pace by the international community before it is too late.

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Islamic State fighters have boasted of their ambition to "conquer Rome." In the opinion of Mattia Toaldo of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the mass beheadings are evidence that Libya has become fertile ground for IS militants to expand in close proximity to Europe.

“There is a pool of Libyan jihadis who have fought in Afghanistan, fought in Syria, and now are back to Libya," he said. "There are other terrorist organizations which have an open alliance with some of the factions, and I am speaking of Ansar al-Sharia. And fighters from Ansar al-Sharia may be already defecting to ISIS.

“The idea of having such a heinous and dangerous terrorist organization on your front yard," just 300 miles from Sicily, makes Italy feel that it's now on the front line in the global fight against terror, he said.

The possibility that "jihadis would be mixed with migrants on boats crossing the Mediterranean,” he said, shows that the terror threat from Libya is now seen as a test of Europe’s ability to secure its own neighborhood.

“The European Union presented a plan, which included individual sanctions, the potential for a peacekeeping mission, the goal to preserve the independence of Libyan economic institutions from the different warring factions, which want to get all the cash and money and oil.”

According to Libya expert John Hamilton of London-based Cross Border Information, concerns are increasing that Islamic State militants are eyeing Libya’s oil wealth to finance its terror network.

“I do not think it is actually possible for them to do that, but the fear that they could is a nightmare, which Islamic State are very willing to encourage,” he said.

Egypt's recent call for a U.N. resolution allowing international forces to intervene in Libya may compromise the U.N. position.

“While Egypt has called for a U.N. intervention of this kind, the United Nations is in fact hosting attempted peace negotiations between Islamist groups, not Islamic State obviously, but Islamist groups and the recognized government of Libya," Hamilton said. "They cannot really do both of those things at the same time.”

Military analysts question how far airstrikes alone would counter Islamic State in Libya.

“Bringing troops in will be fraught with difficulty," Hamilton said, explaining that Western leaders must balance the risks of intervention against the danger of a failed state on Europe’s southern shores. "I mean, the one thing which would unite all the fractured groups that are fighting in Libya quicker than anything else would be foreign intervention.”

VOA's Henry Ridgwell contributed reporting from London.