posted on Tue 17 Feb 2015 8:40 PM
Council Meeting on Libya and ISIS

Tomorrow afternoon (18 February), the Security Council will meet to discuss the situation in Libya. The meeting follows the Sunday release by Islamists allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) of a video in which 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded on a Libyan beach, and Egypt’s retaliatory strikes in Libya the following morning. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several Council members today and Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al Dairi are expected to brief the Council. Consultations will follow. While Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made public comments indicating that Egypt may seek a Security Council resolution mandating an international coalition to intervene in Libya, at press time it was unclear whether any outcome was anticipated for tomorrow’s meeting.

On 15 February, a five-minute video was released by ISIS’ propaganda wing al-Hayat Media, showing the mass execution of Egyptians who were kidnapped in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte in two separate incidents in December and January. Following release of the video, President Sisi announced that Egypt “reserves the right of retaliation and with the methods and timing it sees fit for retribution for those murderers and criminals who are without the slightest humanity.”

Later that day, the Council issued a lengthy press statement on the executions in which Council members “strongly condemned the heinous and cowardly apparent murder in Libya of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians” that “once again demonstrates the brutality of ISIL, which is responsible for thousands of crimes and abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity”. The members of the Security Council stressed again that ISIL must be defeated, demanded the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all those who are kept hostage by ISIS, Ansar Al Sharia entities, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, underlined the need to bring perpetrators of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice and stressed that those responsible for these killings shall be held accountable. They urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law, to cooperate actively with Libya, Egypt and all other relevant authorities in this regard.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein also strongly condemned the killings, and Zeid stressed that “murdering captives or hostages is prohibited under international law and Islamic law.”

Early Monday morning, the Egyptian military began conducting air strikes that targeted camps, training sites and weapons storage sites in Derna, Libya, asserting that “avenging Egyptian blood and punishing criminals and murderers is our right and duty”, while the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that “leaving the situation as it is in Libya without a firm intervention to curtail these terrorist organisations would be a threat to international peace and security”. Libyan officials said the strikes had been coordinated with the country’s internationally recognised government based in Tobruk. Press reports indicate that there have been at least eight strikes conducted since Monday morning, and it is likely that they will continue. The strikes mark the first time that Egypt, which is also battling Islamists in its eastern Sinai Peninsula, has announced military action against Islamist targets in its western neighbour, having previously denied it targeted militants there. Egypt has, however, reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to previously use its bases to bomb militants in Libya.

Earlier today, President Sisi, speaking on French radio, said “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya and demanded the lifting of the arms embargo on Libyan government forces so that its army can defend the country, and indicated that Foreign Minister Shoukry was currently consulting with France, Italy and other European countries on the matter. On 15 February, French President Francois Hollande and Al-Sisi had spoken by telephone, asserting “the importance that the Security Council meet and that the international community take new measures” against the spread of ISIS in Libya, according to a statement by Hollande’s office.

Meanwhile on Monday, France signed its first export contract to send fighter jets to Egypt in a multi-billion Euro contract signed at a presidential palace in Cairo in the presence of Al-Sisi and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “Our two countries are pursuing a common struggle against terrorism,” Le Drian said during the signing ceremony. Like France, Italy has indicated support measures to be taken against Islamists in Libya, warning that ISIS is at Europe’s doorstep. Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has called for NATO to intervene and on 15 February said Italy was willing to lead an international coalition of European and North African states against jihadists there.

Most members appear to regard tomorrow’s public meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the bilateral consultations over the last few days, and to hear from the Libyan Foreign Minister on his government’s views about what should be done before engaging in closed consultations to discuss the prospects for further action in Libya. While it may be too early for Council members to have clear positions on any specific action, it is likely that members are concerned about the impact of activity by ISIS-affiliated groups on Libya and the implications of these actions for the international peace and security.