In the past week, the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group has targeted a new front well outside of its core area of influence in Syria and Iraq, extending the reach of its violent ideology to Libya — where the country’s political instability has allowed radical militants an opening to exploit the unrest.
Last Sunday, the group released a gruesome video showing the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic workers in Libya, pledging that they would soon “conquer Rome.” On Friday, Islamic State loyalists claimed responsibility for three simultaneous bombings in the eastern Libyan town of Al Qubbah, which killed at least 40 people.
Over the weekend, unconfirmed reports claimed that militias affiliated with the group took possession of a cache of chemical weapons left behind by the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi — including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin — and another group allied with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks at the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli and at the Labraq international airport in the east. No one was killed in the attacks.
Regional and world leaders who are already concentrating on battling the group to the east have been alarmed by developments in Libya, but the Islamic State has been steadily building a presence there as Libyans who have fought with the group in Syria and Iraq return to a deeply fragmented country.