A Time of Jihad: The Libyan Connection and the threat of extremism to Britain.

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen to fight between 2003 and 2017. Europe is feeling the blowback of these conflicts. 

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen to fight between 2003 and 2017. Europe is feeling the blowback of these conflicts. 


“Not only has the technology already moved on but, as events in the Levant demonstrate, the threat now facing the West is diversifying, deepening and becoming more sophisticated. It is a threat that has proved to be resilient and committed: having endured years of the war on terror, global jihadism is stronger than ever.”
— Shiraz Maher, Senior Research Fellow at International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation

The chilling scenes in Manchester are grimly familiar. In the words of The Economist in the wake of the murderous 2016 bombings in Brussels, these violent acts of terror are becoming "the new normal" as the West - indeed the world - enters an age of sophisticated, yet ultra-violent terror and hyper-security. European states battle an enemy it does not fully understand and grapples with an ideology which is diverse, complex and far from monolithic. Salafi-jihādism is penetrating the heart of Europe and terrorist attacks have rocked American and European cities - the latest assault being a brutal suicide bombing by Salmen Abedi (22) in the Manchester Arena which killed 22 people, predominantly teenagers and children. 

Conflicts and disorder stretching from Central Asia through the Middle East to North Africa, Waziristan to Tripoli are having global repercussions. Many other processes driving the modern world, including globalisation, a revolution in technology and robotics, the information age, and economic changes, have contributed to disorder and catalysed turmoil. The multi-generational war for the Greater Middle East - the Arab Revolutions being the latest phase of conflict in a region torn by political strife for decades - is has become a microcosm of the reshuffling of world order as the status quo has been punctured by revolt and insurgency. The consequences of the 9/11 wars, the legacy of torture, extra-judicial killings and uncontrolled drone wars unleashed by Western states across all corners of the planet and which have shattered millions of lives are returning to haunt our societies in the form of suicide bombs, bullets and appalling bloodshed on the streets of major cities including London, Berlin, Madrid, Paris, St. Petersburg and Brussels. 

These developments have impacted Europe in multiple forms and the rise of home-grown Salafi-jihādists, sub-cells of ISIL and Al-Qa'ida, and the return of Western foreign fighters from battlefields in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria and beyond are one of the most potent elements of change sweeping the continent. Destroying ISIL's caliphate in Syria and Iraq will change little. Despite its seizure of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, large swathes of the territory under its control were impoverished, "nothing ISIL did is individually new. We've seen theatrical brutality before. We've seen claims to resurrect the caliphate before: by one count, 19 jihadi* (see bottom for terminology) proto-states (mostly short-lived) between 1989 and 2015." 

These have had disturbing results for Europe as home-grown extremist and terrorist sub-cells are being established by European nationals. Scattered across Europe, difficult to track, and fuelled by a variety of contextual factors under the guise of holy war these cells, inspired by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's doctrine, have been eager to replicate their deadly blueprint to target not only men, women and children of the Shiite sect and minority groups across the Middle East, but Western civilians. ISIL will not be able to establish long-term territorial stability in the Middle East, however it will remain capable of conducting atrocities such as those seen in the Manchester Arena in May. 

Despite all the counter measures and domestic security innovations made by the United Kingdom, British civilians are still being killed and more will follow as the dramatic consequences of these conflicts continue to seep into society. The external threats which has grown from a century of turmoil across the Greater Middle East has combined with internal problems within British society both historical and contemporary. 

The targeting of Western civilians for Al-Qa'ida and ISIL remains crucial to encouraging recruitment and rolling out propaganda which demonstrates its successes abroad, particularly after the organisation's military setbacks across Syria and Iraq. For thousands of young men and women in countries such as France and the United Kingdom, the allure of jihād has grown exponentially. For ISIL and Al-Qa'ida's leadership, sleeper cells and extremist networks operating within are easier to cultivate for potential operations in British towns and cities. 


“The multi-generational war for the Greater Middle East has become a microcosm of the reshuffling of world order as the status quo has been punctured by revolt and insurgency.”

Foreign fighters flooding war zones across the Middle East have been a headache for British policymakers since the 9/11 wars began. "We are watching the largest mobilization in a generation of volunteers traveling abroad to join a war. They are not bound even by Al Qaeda's discipline. What is coming, without doubt, is the backlash from Syria's savage war, and we are woefully unready to address it." Foreign fighters battle-hardened are returning to home and many of their experiences are aligning with those who wish to fight for Al-Qa'ida or ISIL but never got the chance as accessing Syria and Iraq became, to some extent, more difficult as the threat of the group became clearer. 

The UK has contributed one of the largest groups of European Muslims and converts inspired to travel and fight in the Middle East and North Africa. British authorities reported in 2017 that '850 people from the UK have travelled to support or fight for jihadist organisations in Syria and Iraq'. In June, 2016, The Telegraph reported that 20 British jihadists were believed to be fighting for ISIL in Libya. These numbers are dwarfed by those in Syria and Iraq, however with ISIL facing military defeat in Mosul and Raqqa, these numbers may have increased in countries such as Libya and Yemen. Around half (425) fighting in Syria and Iraq have since returned to the UK.

It should be stressed that while ISIL's elite and leadership fight through an ideological strain of Salafism and Wahhabism, the motives for fighting are not purely ideological amongst ISIL British foot soldiers - however appalling the violence conducted by many of them. Radicalisation is multi-layered and complex. Signs are often difficult to detect and very often, in very intimate space such as the family household, parents can play a crucial role in radicalisation. 

Terrorism, extremism and violence impacts climate, neighbourhoods, media and politicians bounce off of it. Politicians including President Donald Trump are counter-productive elements, evidence for the poisonous narratives created by ISIL that the West does not accept Muslims or Islam. The heart of the problem is that British policymakers, domestic and foreign, cannot identify a concrete policy for a fluid, diverse, and multi-layered threat. Far right-extremism is inadequately covered or presented including white supremacism, racism, and ethnic nationalism. Many of those who join ISIL are troubled youths from slums and destitute enclaves of British towns and cities, disillusioned by Western society. However, it would be an oversimplification that it is only a question of class. Many who undergo radicalisation or become extremists come from prisons, universities and schools, all of which are highly contested ideological spaces. The push factors include inequality and social immobility, the power of identity politics aggravated by issues surrounding migration, limited education and class inequality which produces negative factors of racism, victimisation, grievances and anger. These social factors discount psychological space and emotional issues.

As reflected in the Syrian War, the Iraq War, Bosnia, Afghanistan (1979) and even the Spanish Civil War, it is clear that before the 'Global War on Terror' began, tens of thousands have left the United Kingdom to fight. Many young British Muslims are drawn by the allure, a myth of a utopian vision, a misreading of Islam and in some ways a sense of adventure which comes with travelling and fighting,  "the rush of battle" as described by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Chris Hedges as being "a lethal addiction, a drug." ISIL is equipped with digital-savvy, well-equipped and IT literate, skilled fighters, and a new generation of ideologically committed youth, many rooted in gangs and a potent jihadi "cool" sub-culture. Many of these men and women committing atrocities are incubated and made in Britain, France and other parts of Western Europe, not the Middle East as Shiraz Maher explains:  

"The stories of the Portsmouth (or "Pompey lads")  and Manchester boys offer a remarkable insight into the world of foreign fighters. They reveal the deep chasms within British society. Second - and third - generation immigrants of Muslim Asian origin continue to feel a profound detachment not just from the county in which they were born and educated but from their own families and communities. Many of their local leaders are too old to counter the charisma of millenarian propaganda." 

These British men and women fighting for ISIL are committing some of the most violent acts with fighters being filmed executing prisoners of war, beheading rebels, posing with severed heads and leading the "execution of western journalists and aid workers held" and - as with foreign fighters in Iraq - "showed a callousness towards the concerns of ordinary Syrians...in whose defence they claimed to be acting." British-born Mohammed Emwazi reported killed a day before the 2nd wave of Paris attacks in 2015 was perhaps the most notorious example of this. 

Iraq sparked a new wave of foreign fighters and jihādists to flock to the country during the Iraq War and occupation of the country between 2003 and 2011. If 9/11 was the result of the multiple conflicts in Afghanistan from 1979 - 2000 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the catalyst for a new wave of terror across Europe, the Syrian War alongside civil wars in Iraq, Yemen, and Libya and the historical Arab Revolutions will be recognised as the point at which these historical events preceding them converged allowing jihādists to flourish in disorder, producing a lethal synergy which is infecting the cohesion of  multiple European societies, particularly the United Kingdom and France. 

The United Kingdom, for multiple reasons, is in the cross-hairs of Salafi-jihādists. The British wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unmitigated disasters. The Conservative government remains engaged in small wars across the region including logistical and military support for the United States and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the bombing of ISIL in Iraq and Syria and NATO operations in Afghanistan. In the context of these small wars and the Manchester bombing, the bombardment of Libya and the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi during the revolution was a pivotal moment.

Colonel Qaddafi's rule was brought to a grisly end by NATO-supported rebel forces. The former dictator, intercepted by units of the National Liberation Army in Sirte after NATO airstrikes bombarded his convoy, was humiliated, beaten, mutilated and executed by a mob of jubilant NLA soldiers. His son, Mutassim Qaddafi, who was captured in the same attack did not last the night. Pictures later emerged from Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya of Mutassim's body; he had been stabbed in the stomach and throat while his arm had been dislocated. War crimes were committed as between 500 - 900 pro-Qaddafi soldiers were executed and buried in mass-graves across Sirte by the NLA and its affiliated militias. 


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With no post-conflict plan for the state, the country underwent the process of "Somalianisation". A term coined by Patrick Cockburn, two governments are squabbling over territory in Benghazi, Sirte and Tripoli while militia rule and human trafficking is rampant. Many thousands of refugees - either fleeing conflicts in countries such as South Sudan, Darfur, Nigeria and Central Republic, dictatorship in Eritrea or Libya's violence - are drowning in the Mediterranean desperate to reach Europe as torture, human rights violations, crime and standards of living have plummeted to unbearable levels. The UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord, the GNA is holed up in Tripoli and its power barely extends beyond the outskirts of the city. 

In September 2016, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published a damning report titled 'Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options' which unpacked David Cameron's decision to intervene in the Libyan Revolution, a decision process they believed was based on poor intelligence and lacking a coherent strategy. 

"The Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had turned into an opportunist policy of regime change. Policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Qadaffi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Qaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa."

It is little surprise that under this context that jihādi fighters and ultra-violent Islamist sub-cells have flourished as the situation has spiralled. By 2015, The Independent argued that "Benghazi was partly in ruins and is fought over by rival factions, while Islamic State carved out enclaves where it slaughtered Egyptian Copts and Ethiopian Christians." Libya became an arms depot for jihādists and the weapons of Qaddafi loyalists flooded the black market. As civil war began to spread across Syria in 2012 following the revolution against Bashar Al-Asad's government, the CIA, assisted by MI6, exploited the disorder to smuggle Libyan weapons into the hands of Syrian rebels fighting Asad loyalists. As investigative journalist Seymour Hersh argues:

"The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a rat line, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn't always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with Al-Qa'ida."

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With little public appetite for another military intervention following the failure of Iraq and with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government furious at the horrific outcome of the Libyan intervention, Western leaders and intelligence services had to find new ways to arm the rebels fighting President Asad. The consequences, as with Libya, were disastrous for Syria and Iraq as jihādists and the ruthless regime of President Al-Asad fought savagely over the lifeless corpse of the Syrian state. 

In Benghazi, the CIA were eventually targeted by anti-Qaddafi rebels in brutal fashion. On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2012, Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafi jihādist group (which announced its dissolution on May 28th, 2017) who had ties to Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched an attack on the U.S consulate in Benghazi. As Qaddafi's regime faced its downfall, Ansar al-Sharia were on frontline of the final battle of the former strongman of Libya. The consulate was incinerated and U.S Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens alongside USFR officer Sean Smith and two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty were killed.  The diplomatic mission of Ambassador Stevens, an anonymous former senior Defense Department intelligence official interviewed by Hersh said "The consulate's only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms. It had no real political role."



The bloodshed in Manchester was a result of conflicts abroad, the United Kingdom's meddling in Libya since the 1980s with the Americans targeting the Libyan regime of Qaddafi, the intervention of David Cameron's government in 2011 to eventually remove the president from power and internal security failures within the UK. The operations of MI6 to remove President Asad have also helped fuel conflict in Libya and Syria and in-turn allowed ISIL and Al-Qa'ida to exploit the collapse of these states. Turning a blind-eye to the ties between the events in Manchester and the United Kingdom's role in the Libyan debacle would be highly irresponsible. 

The Libyan connection in the UK has deep roots. Diplomatic ties with Libya had been poor ever since Qaddafi's seizure of power in 1969 and his regime - moulded by Arab nationalism - were highly anti-Western and anti-Zionist in alignment with many other Arab leaders and regimes during the revolutions and coups across the Middle East during the 1950s and 1960s. The anti-Israeli posturing and the development of programmes for weapons of mass destruction combined with the brutal repression led to geo-political and economic tensions between the Western powers and Libya. The assassination campaign against Libyan journalists and activists in exile soured relations further as Qaddafi's regime grew restless with Parliament's support for Libyan dissidents who in-turn were deeply troubled by Qaddafi's praise and logistical support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1983, the Foreign Office according to The Guardian recorded that Tripoli emitted warnings that "the Libyan people were left with no alternative but to retaliate by resuming active support for the IRA"

The shooting of police officer, Yvonne Fletcher fractured relations between the two countries for years to come. Shots were fired from the Libyan embassy at a protest by the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an anti-Qaddafi opposition group determined to "liberate Libya and save it from Gadaffi's rule" and replace the present regime with a democratically elected government. P.C Fletcher, one of the police officers present at the protest was caught in the spray of bullets and died in Westminster Hospital. 


One witnesses described to me the day police officer Yvonne Fletcher was murdered on April 17th, 1984.  "It was a bad day when Yvonne Fletcher was murdered. I remember working away in Cleveland House on St.James Square and police rushed in shouting "Hit the floor!" and we had to wait for several hours. Yvonne Fletcher was shot next door. I stayed on the floor for a few hours and we were eventually evacuated from the building. That was when it was all beginning to kick off back with the Libyan government back in 1984."

The shooting of P.C Fletcher sparked a ten-day siege of Libya's Embassy in London before thirty of its occupants were deported back to Libya and the United Kingdom severed all diplomatic ties with Libya. No-one has been prosecuted over the murder of Yvvone Fletcher. With Ronald Reagan in power, who described Qaddafi as "the mad dog of the Middle East" targeted Libya in 1986 in Operation El Dorado Canyon with the blessing of Margaret Thatcher's government. The operation was touted as a response to 5 April 1986 La Belle discotheque bombing in which three people were killed and around 230 injured in Berlin. 

The terrorist attack, attributed to Libyan intelligence, was utilised as an opportunity to punish Qaddafi for his alignment with Soviet interests and support for Palestinian insurgent groups launching attacks in the Middle East and Europe. 

Tension had been high before then. In 1981, Libya fired at a U.S. aircraft that passed into the Gulf of Sidra, which Qaddafi had claimed in 1973 as Libyan territorial waters. That same year, the U.S. uncovered what appeared to be Libyan-sponsored terrorist plots against the United States, including planned assassination attempts against U.S. officials and the bombing of a U.S. embassy-sponsored dance in Khartoum, Sudan. In December 1985, five American citizens were killed in simultaneous terrorist attacks at the Rome and Vienna airports. Libya was blamed, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered expanded sanctions and froze Libyan assets in the United States. On March 24, 1986, U.S. and Libyan forces clashed in the Gulf of Sidra, and four Libyan attack boats were sunk. The 1986 El Dorado Canyon bombing run was a messy affair for the Reagan administration. The French embassy was accidentally hit in the attack and an estimated 60 Libyan soldiers, officials and civilians died as well as two U.S Air Force crewmen. 



In response to the bombing of Libya (conducted from UK military bases), Libyan Major General Ahmed Jalloud and Saad Muzber, Libya’s Chief of Protocol debated injecting more funds and arms into the IRA campaigns against the United Kingdom. "Thatcher and her children will have to pay, let there be no doubt about that. If she does not leave office she and her family will be destroyed," said Muzber to an Eamon Kennedy, Irelan's ambassador in Rome "What could the IRA not do, he asked, if they had $50 million to use against Thatcher? Libya will reactivate its support for the IRA in Britain and will endeavour to murder Thatcher and her family." In 1988, the deadly Lockerbie bombing in Scotland, based on the highly contentious official narrative, only widened the chasm between the United Kingdom and Libya. These deadly events drew the UK closer to radical anti-Qaddafi exiles. 

Anti-Qaddafi exiles and activists were not simply moderates and included radical Islamist elements amongst the opposition. The Soviet-Afghan War (1979 - 1989) and the CIA's covert operations against the Soviet occupation opened up the space for the Taliban to seize power in Kabul in 1996 during the subsequent Afghan Civil War. Libyan foreign fighters were amongst those fighting Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. 

However these Islamist fighters, rather than promoting global jihād remained localised and focused on liberating Libya and establishing an Islamic state under sharia law. In 1990, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed in eastern Libya to launch jihād against President Qadaffi's clique. The motives for supporting Libyan Islamists with ties to Al-Qa'ida were complex. They were tactical allies against Qadaffi and with Libyan-British relations at an all-time low in the years following the Lockerbie bombing, MI6 decided to support the Islamists to install a new regime less hostile to Western interests.  

In 2002, The Guardian revealed the Shalyer Affair which detailed the relationship between Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, MI5 and MI6.  David Shalyer, whistleblower and ex-MI5 officer, revealed the deep ties between the Libyan jihādists and MI6 during the 1990s. During his time in Libya, Shalyer revealed how MI6 officers, Bartlett and Watson, helped pass '£100,000 to the al-Qaeda plotters' to support their plot to assassinate Qadaffi in the city of Sirte during the 1990s. In 2000, a leaked MI6 document demonstrated that the planned coup also included students and army officers in Libya alongside Islamist operatives. The plan was an incredible gamble by British intelligence, as the Libyan veterans were sure to hold considerable bargaining power with their military experiences gained abroad in Afghanistan. 


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Many of these Libyans who had fought in Afghanistan "were granted political asylum in the United Kingdom (who) allowed LIFG to develop a base of logistical support and fundraising on its soil." In 2004, "several prominent leaders of the group continued to live in London and Manchester" despite their history with Al-Qa'ida. Amongst the Libyan exiles, was Salman Abdedi's father who came to the UK in 1993, and like many Libyan exiles settled in southern Manchester, where Salman was born a year later.

The assassinations and support for a potential coup ended in disaster for MI6. The Islamist rebels and Al-Qa'ida affiliates failed to kill Qaddafi in March 1996 and the Libyan military cracked down on the Islamists driving them from Libya and forcing them to return to Afghanistan and Sudan, the latter of which had traditionally been a location for anti-Qaddafi activists to make camp. 

Paralleling this, during the four year battle for Afghanistan's capital Kabul, radical Libyan Islamists, driven from the east of the Libya (still determined to overthrow the Qaddafi regime) continued to further strengthen their ties with Al-Qa'ida and Osama Bin Laden who had been in Sudan in 1996. MI6's operation let key Al-Qa'ida members slip from Western intelligence agencies grasp and led to disasters elsewhere.

"Two French intelligence experts reveal that the first Interpol arrest warrant for bin Laden was issued by Libya in March 1998. British and US intelligence agencies buried the fact that the arrest warrant had come from Libya and played down the threat. Five months after the warrant was issued, al-Qaeda killed more than 200 people in the truck bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."

Those to evade arrest included Bin Laden and Anas al-Libi, the latter of whom was a key architect in the bombing of the U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. However, like the Libyan Afghan veterans and 'despite suspicions that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative, al-Libi was given political asylum in Britain and lived in Manchester until May of 2000 when he eluded a police raid on his house and fled abroad. The raid discovered a 180-page al-Qaeda 'manual for jihad' containing instructions for terrorist attacks.'

Following the crackdown on Libyan jihādists, Islamists and activists in the 1990s,  Qaddafi saw an opportunity to improve ties with the Western powers in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Ties improved with the West under Prime Minister Tony Blair, however the initiation of the Arab Revolutions dramatically changed the geo-political landscape of the Middle East and North Africa. 


“The jihadist genie is out of the bottle and the United Kingdom must brace itself for the consequences and the coming storm.”

In 2011, the Arab Revolutions began in neighbouring Tunisia and swept the region. The reasons for bombing are numerous - albeit contentious - particular the "Responsibility to Protect" agenda (which many have argued ignored political, the question of gold and oil and the economic interests of France in removing Qaddafi), however as NATO launched it bombings against Qaddafi loyalists, the UK intelligence services started funnelling LIFG fighters and activists into the UK. MI5 likely sensed an opportunity to rid itself of a domestic threat and NATO and the Gulf States saw the chance to eliminate Qaddafi who had outlived his uses in the 'War on Terror'. Salmen Abedi, as Max Blumenthal analyses, was "one member of a "rat line" operated by the MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the Libyan Civil War." 

"Ramadan Abedi, the father of Salem, returned to his home country to fight with the LIFG. He was part of the rat line operated by MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the war. "I was allowed to go [to Libya], no questions asked," a British Libyan who had been under house arrest at the time for ties to extremist groups, told Middle East Eye."

The support of the anti-Qaddafi rebels, without a contingency plan, produced appalling results and did little to improve British civilians security. In Tunisia, neighbouring Libya, thirty-eight people, thirty of whom were British holidaymakers were gunned down by Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi in Sousse in 2015. Lee Rigby was murdered by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in Woolwich, London in 2013 and now Salem Abedi has killed twenty-two in 2017 while ISIL executed aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines on live video in 2014. 

Salem Abedi had known ties to a radical preacher in Libya identified as Abdul Baset Ghwela whose own son had joined ISIL (who had perished in the fighting in Benghazi). Preceding the attack, Abedi was located in Libya on May 17, five days before returning to Manchester. The uneasy relationship between the LIFG and the British government and intelligence, nearly three decades old, was about to reach its tragic conclusion. Following the Manchester bombing, Salmen Abedi's father and his younger brother Hashem Abedi have since been arrested by a militia group in Libya.


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As the case of Libya demonstrates, dangerous networks exist within the United Kingdom and they are a direct threat to innocent men, women and children. Security is an imperative and inevitably set to increase as more attacks are set to surge. However, without understanding our culpability in creating this threat, tolerating the threat and utilising jihādists and exiles as volatile proxies for geo-political and selfish economic advantage in the Middle East and North Africa, the causes of the Manchester bombing - alongside the ideological factors driving Salafi-jihādist fighters - will not be properly understood. 

The UK's direct intervention with NATO in the Libyan Civil War and our country's long conflict with President Qaddafi and Libya has returned to haunt British policymakers. Similar consequences from covert wars and bombings in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria will inevitabley invite future attacks on UK soil. The jihādist genie is out of the bottle and we must brace ourselves for the consequences and the coming storm.


Matthew C.K Williams


*Note on terminology

The root of the word “jihad” in Arabic refers to striving in the service of God. Many Muslims find its use in the context of political violence imprecise and offensive. It reduces a complex religious concept, which over centuries has taken many, often peaceful forms, to war-making. In the view of the vast majority of Muslims, today’s “jihadists” pervert Islam’s tenets. It is hard, however, to escape the term. First, the groups this report addresses mostly self-identify as “jihadist”; The Conflict Archives lets actors speak for and label themselves. Secondly, while jihad has long been an element of virtually all schools of Islam, a nascent “jihadist” ideology has emerged that is more than a reflection of this history. Moving beyond the Islamist thought and practice that gave rise to modern jihad in recent decades, ideologues borrow from other traditions and at times show frustration with Salafi doctrinal rigidity that could constrain fighting tactics. Though big differences exist between “jihadist” groups, they share some ideological tenets: fighting to return society to a purer form of Islam; violence against rulers whose policies they deem in conflict with Islamic imperatives (as jihadists understand them); and belief in a duty to use violence when Muslim rulers abandon those imperatives. Our use of “jihadist” is not meant to add legitimacy to this interpretation or detract from efforts to promote alternative interpretations.We mostly avoid the term “violent extremist”, given that the groups covered in this paper represent only one form of “violent extremism” – namely Sunni extremism – and section IV.D explores some of the potentially dangerous policy implications of its use. Of course, lumping together movements with diverse goals and tactics under any single label, whether “jihadist” or “violent extremist”, is to a degree unhelpful. We disaggregate between and within even the hardest-line movements throughout this report and recommend policymakers do the same. We use “terrorist” only as an adjective to describe the attempt to use violence or intimidation, especially of civilians, to achieve political goals through the manipulation of fear. Though in principle both state and non-state actors can employ terrorist tactics, we use it here for actions of the latter.