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Libya one of the top priorities in coming months, says PM Valls

media French Prime Minister Manuel Valls REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the situation in Libya will be the big issue in the coming months in the fight against terrorism which he said constantly "mutates". However, according to a United Nations report issued Tuesday, the Islamic State armed group has for the moment no more than 2,000 to 3,000 fighters in Libya and is struggling to expand in the north African country.

The Islamic State armed group, which already controls large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria, has exploited the chaos that spread across Libya after former dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising.

Libya, now becoming a main priority, is not a brand new concern. The international community has already been shocked by a video, released in February by IS, showing the horrific beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians.

One of the main concerns today though, is the fact that IS is pushing eastward from its Libyan stronghold towards an oil hub and the internationally-recognized government is trying to prevent this with air strikes.

"Libya for me was the main issue, even more than Iraq and Syria, and it has the potential of being much more problematic for Europe than even Iraq and Syria will ever be, in terms of Western recruits, terrorism, for not only the allies of France in the region, mostly, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, but also because it's so much easier to get to Europe for suicide bombers," Olivier Guitta, the managing director at GlobalStrat, a Security and Political Risk firm told RFI.

"What's meaningful is that obviously a North African from Brussels or Paris or Amsterdam has much more in common with somebody in Libya than somebody in Syria or Iraq... And the fact that it's getting more difficult to get into Syria, will push a lot of people to join the Islamic State armed group in Libya rather than go all the way to Iraq or Syria."

European countries face several concerns when it comes to the situation in Libya.

IS is now trying to expand its zone of influence between Sirte and Benghazi, in the heart of one of Libya's major oil-producing regions and despite the fact that the UN report says IS has several weaknesses within the country, there's still room for concern.

"Of course, the concern in Europe is related to a number of factors. Amongst them is the rise and expansion of ISIS in Libya. The IS armed group has a stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte. It also has a presence in other smaller towns and villages, and Libya has carried out a number of high profile attacks in the capital Tripoli over the past year, so there is an increasing concern in Europe that ISIS may be using Libya as a potential backdoor to Europe," Mary Fitzgerald, an analyst on Libya, told RFI. 

"Of course there are also concerns about migration, Libya is one of the main gateways for migrants and refugees trying to get to Europe and there are of course attempts from Europe to reduce that flow... and neither of those two issues can really be addressed properly unless there is a functioning government of national unity in Libya and it seems as though we're quite some time away from that yet."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also stated Tuesday that one of the main issues that lead to this current situation is the fact that after the 2011 intervention to topple Moamer Kadhafi, there should have been an appropriate follow-up, which the international community failed to do.

"It's because we have made a monster in all West of Libya. All the governments are saying that the government of Tripoli is not a government! It's just a cover up of militias, it's nothing! Of course they're in West Libya where there is the majority of people. Their militias are making money by sending all the migrants to Europe. It is not only the IS which is the problem, it's the fact that these militias in West Libya are fuelling IS whenever Europe is changing sides, and try to support the process," Gerard Verron, a consultant who has lived over 20 years in Libya and left the country in 2013 told RFI.

"These militias will go to the IS, because from the beginning, we refused to understand that we cannot support militias, we have to support the legitimate army, the legitimate institutions."

The new UN envoy, Martin Kobler, will be seeking to push Libya's warring factions to agree on a unity government between the internationally recognized one in Tobruk and the other one in Tripoli, that would be able to confront the IS. Many agree that's the only way to defeat the jihadists in the country.

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