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Italian Authorities Accuse ISIS and Mafia of Cooperation

ISIS IN ACTION
Last week media sources reported that Italian authorities suspect that ISIS and other jihadi networks in Libya are in cahoots with the Italian Mafia and illegal fuel smuggling operations. According to La Republica, the police had found substantial amounts of Libyan and Syrian crude that “shouldn’t have been there” and were greater than some local refineries’ inventories. Despite a lack of concrete evidence of a connection between the mafia and extremist groups, rumors circulate about cooperation in the illicit economy via fuel and drug smuggling in the Sahara Desert.

Such beliefs run against factual evidence that ISIS has been relatively unsuccessful in financing itself through illicit trade in Libya. Instead, as explained in Eye on ISIS analysis “Who Funds ISIS in Libya?,” ISIS failed to expand its source of revenue beyond basic taxing systems and into a more lucrative sector of narcotics, antiquities, and human trafficking. As the group loses its last footholds of territorial control, their capacity to coerce local citizens to pay taxes deteriorates. It follows that they will need to adapt to new systems of revenue to survive, but remains to be seen if this will include illicit trade.

GNA- aligned al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces continue to conduct anti-ISIS reconnaissance missions in Abu Hadi area, south of Sirte. The looting of power cables and other infrastructure continues too as criminal networks take advantage of the conflict in the city.

WESTERN RESPONSE
An Italian naval vessel docked at Tripoli port last week as part of the controversial Italian naval mission into Libya waters requested by Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and endorsed by the Italian parliament. On August 3, an Italian naval patrol boat, the Commandante Borsini, arrived in Tripoli with a group of experts for a five-day working visit which allegedly ended on August 6. A second vessel is expected to replace it on August 8. The eastern-based House of Representatives (HoR) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) both condemned the move on August 3, with LNA commander Khalifa Haftar calling on Libyan armed and naval forces in western Libya to repel Italian vessels with force should they enter Libyan waters. Those who oppose the Italians see their presence as a violation of Libyan sovereignty and evidence of imperial intent.

According to Abdulsalam al-Mashri who claims to speak on behalf of Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, Saif reportedly echoed the view that Italy wants to re-colonize Libya. He said the relationship between the two countries was destroyed when Italy allowed NATO aircrafts to bomb Libya from their airbases and that this new policy is a repeat of the NATO scenario by violating Libyan sovereignty. Saif was reportedly released from detention in Zintan in June, yet he has made no public appearances since then and it is unclear where he is currently located.

The GNA-affiliated coastguard in western Libya dismissed the threat of armed response by the LNA as angry rhetoric, claiming that such intimidation is politically motivated and hid partisan objectives under claims of protecting ‘sovereignty’. The coastguard stressed the technical nature of the Italian assistance. Minor protests against the Italian naval mission were held in Tripoli on 4 August but there were no signs of significant public remonstrations.

Early last week, the new UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame visited the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the High Council of State (HCS) in Tripoli as well as Ageelah Saleh, the House of Representatives (HoR) president in eastern Libya. Local informed sources say that Salame and Saleh discussed the key amendments to be agreed in the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), including the composition of the Presidency Council and ‘presidential’ elections next March, with no mention of parliamentary elections in the talks.

Libya-Analysis is the most read independent English-language blog on Libyan affairs. It is run by Jason Pack, founder of EyeOnISISinLibya.com and researcher of World History at Cambridge University

This article was republished with explicit permission from the author.