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Muammar Qaddafi

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The former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was no saint, but he served an important function in North Africa: keeping a lid on Islamic extremism. As a pan-Arabist and Nasserite, Qaddafi was wary of, and quickly muzzled any Islamist groups that mixed religion with politics. He also kept many of the neighboring economies afloat by direct investments and employment in Libya’s oil fields. After a NATO-backed revolt in 2011 upended Qaddafi and later took his life, the Sahel region he effectively policed has slid into militant chaos.

In November, terrorists connected to Al-Qaeda stormed an upscale Malian hotel and left 21 people dead. Earlier this month, the Islamic State (IS)-allied Boko Haram group bombed two marketplaces in Nigeria with over 50 fatalities. The US’s missionary zeal to impose democracy on tribal societies has again backfired, a story replayed across the Middle East after the so-called “Arab spring” of 2011.

Qaddafi was the
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A few months later, Tunisian authorities revealed that terrorists trained in Libya carried out the Sousse and Bardo Museum attacks that killed over 50 civilians. Still, runaway success eludes IS in Libya. Local militias kicked the group out of Derna, an eastern city, in June and it is, at present, only able to conduct hit-and-run attacks on oil fields.

The reason is “there is a superabundance of armed groups” in Libya, who, “for the most part, are busy fighting each other, but could potentially be harnessed to eliminate Islamic State," claims Geoff Porter from West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. His assessment ties into US President Barack Obama’s policy on combating IS. "If you do not have local populations that are committed to pushing back against ideological extremes, then they resurface," Obama stressed at the recent G20 meeting in
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