It’s still unclear who exactly organized the well-executed attack that left more than a dozen tourists dead in normally placid Tunisia on Wednesday — the Islamic State has claimed involvement — but the Tunisian government says it does have some information on the gunmen.
One notable point: They reportedly trained in next-door Libya, which has been overrun by sundry Islamist and tribal militias since a Western intervention helped push Moammar Qaddafi from power. In fact, their story suggests post-intervention Libya could become a new hub for terror: The gunmen were Tunisians, recruited at a mosque in their country to go train in Libya.
Libya has been home to Islamic terror groups for years, but Qaddafi, especially after his reconciliation with the West in the mid 2000s, put some real effort into fighting them (not least since they posed an even bigger threat to his rule than they did to the West). Many of the jihadists he’d tried to kill or drive from the country then fought in the country’s 2011 rebellion, which was the Arab Spring movement the Obama administration backed more strongly than any other (i.e., with American planes, ships, and missiles).
Since Qaddafi was pushed out of power, Islamic militias’ influence has only grown: Even when the new Libyan government looked like it had some control over the country, it was relying on these militias, many of whom have extremist members, for security. Now, a number of these groups have driven the government from key cities, and the country is now engulfed in a civil war among anti-Islamist militias, the government, and Islamist groups (which control the capital, Tripoli).
Post-NATO-intervention Libya, in other words, looks a bit like Afghanistan before 9/11 — an unstable, largely ungoverned space where a great deal of territory and power is held by radical Islamists. Not all of these Islamists with free rein in the country have transnational terror ambitions, but some of them do — and two of them took their brand of terror to Tunisia this week.