By Zeinab Mohammed Salih
The extremist group Salfia Salhia has been threatening and intimidating non-governmental organisations in southern Libya, according to Sons of the Desert Organization (SDO), a pro-democracy group that advocates for the minority Toubou community.
Salfia Salhia’s Imam, during a recent Friday prayer described SDO as atheist and again later in a printed statement circulated on social media, vowed to fight them.
“The Sons of the Desert Organization are friends of our enemies and they are non-believers, they are atheists, and our role is to fight them,” the extremist group said in a statement obtained by Correspondents.
The threat was made last November but the group has continued its agenda every Friday since then, according to a witness.
Correspondents has learned that the jihadist group has strong ties to the ejected IS from Sirte in the north, and has moved to the southwest along the Algerian border, fueling a growing Islamist insurgency.
“There are strong links between the group in the south and the extremists who were just defeated in Sirte,” said an NGO worker in southern Libya, who wished to remain anonymous.
Minority groups feel abandoned by police
The SDO, which was briefly funded by USAID for Toubou, English and French language classes and computer science lessons, filed an official complaint this past November with the police in Morzuoq town against Salia Salhia.
‘”We know it’s useless but we wanted to maintain a record and we wanted the police to know what is going on. Not only the police, even the judiciary system is suspended here,” said Ismail Barka deputy of SDO.
A member of Sufi Ahmadiyya in Morzuq who spoke under conditions of anonymity for security reasons, said he was personally accused of apostasy and was threatened with death many times by Salfia Salhia. But he didn’t file a complaint against them because he feels it would be useless: “Libya is a failed state and its police are not working,” he said.
All prisons in the southern part of the country have been closed since Gaddafi ‘s death but they were reopened in 2013 by the Ministry of Justice. However, the extremist groups themselves are part of the guard and administration of the prisons. “So we don’t expect them to be jailed or held accountable,” said Barka.
Bassel Torjeman, a political analyst who specialises in terrorist groups said: “We all know that dozens of IS jihadists in the north fled to Sabha and other towns in the south after seven months of fighting in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna.” Torjeman expected that Salfia Salhia might extend to neighbouring countries like Sudan and Egypt, taking advantage of the wide borders with those countries. “I expect they will move to Sudan, as Sudan’s role in supporting the militias in Libya is known to everyone,” said Torjeman.
South a haven for smuggling and extremists
Southern Libya has been in a fragile state of peace over the last few years, while other parts of Libya have been overrun by militias and divided governments.
“It’s unbelievable how Libya has been changed, especially the south, all the extremists groups have found their feet there. Salfia Salhia is actually IS – they are all radical, same type but of a different degree,” said a member of the Constituent Assembly and a former professor at Vienna University Abdul Salam Hamtoun.
“‘They are more aggressive towards the non-Arab Muslim people in Libya, even though the extremists alleged that they are Muslims, but they remain racists,” said Hamtoun.
‘”They also meet Arab nationalists in their hostilities and their hatred towards Tebu and other non-Arab groups in the south.”
Southern Libya, rich with underground water, precious minerals and oil, is also a haven for illegal cross-border trade of weapons, government-subsidized gasoline and food smuggled out, and migrants and drugs smuggled in.
The National Commission for Human Rights in Libya warned in a statement issued last month against dozens of terrorist groups who have moved from the north to the south following their defeat in Sirte
“The commission is warning of Al Qaeda, IS and Ansar el Sharia terrorist groups that fled from north to southern Libya from building new cells and connections with Boko Haram, al Qaeda in al Mughrib using the open borders in order to resume their fighting “
Al Qaeda first appeared in Libya in the 1980s, and was then called the Fighter Islamist, which was made up mostly by Libyan jihadists who returned from Afghanistan, but they also fought Gaddafi who then put them in jail as a result
Following Gaddafi’s fall, terrorist activities have been strengthened in southern Libya, especially al Qaeda, according to a source in the region. “The most dangerous area and attractive for terrorist in Libya is the south due to its huge open borders.”
The SDO in southern Libya expects neither protection nor justice from the three governments of Libya, instead they are “now protected by our relatives and our tribe’s men,” said Barka.
Zeinab Mohammed Salih – Originally from Khartoum, Sudan, she has been a freelance journalist for the last nine years. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent and for mict’s The Niles. She holds a Master’s Degree in international journalism from Cardiff University, United Kingdom. She is currently based in Khartoum.