ISIS Attacks Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport
Before dawn on September 18, a small cell of four ISIS fighters, armed with assault rifles, grenades, explosives, and possibly suicide explosive vests (SVESTs), launched an attack on the Mitiga Airport in downtown Tripoli, blowing a hole in the airport wall and attempting to infiltrate the facility, killing three guards. The brazen attack by ISIS forces in the heart of the Libyan capital appears to have been directed at the airport’s prison in an attempt to free inmates, a tactic the group has used multiple times in other locations. While the operation failed to free any inmates and all four ISIS members were killed, ISIS successfully demonstrated its ability to launch attacks against hardened targets in Tripoli.
The Mitiga Airport is the only operational airport in Tripoli, as the Tripoli International Airport was heavily damaged and rendered inoperable in fighting between Zintani militias and Libya forces in 2014. The airport is controlled by Rada (“Deterrent”) Force — a powerful Tripoli-based militia led by hardline Islamist Abdul Raouf Kara — which also maintains a base there and runs the airport prison.
ISIS’ Wilayat Tarablus (Mandate of Tripoli) Branch claimed credit for the attack in two statements (See below), also identifying the four attackers as being a Moroccan, a Tunisian, and two Sudanese nationals. An image allegedly of the four attackers bearing the Wilayat Tarablus logo also circulated on social media after the attack. The operation falls in line with similar actions taken by the group’s other branches, which have been known to use prison breaks in the past as a tactic, as it allows them to add escaped prisoners, often times imprisoned radical jihadists, to their ranks.
The attack on the airport reinforced ISIS’ capability to launch attacks in Tripoli, and challenges the ability of Rada militia forces and other Libya Dawn elements to provide security to vital facilities. While the attack did not succeed in its primary goal, ISIS clearly has the capability to carry out attacks in the capital and elsewhere, even as it continues to secure and expand its area of control in the city of Sirte.
Sources: (ISIS Wilayat Tarablus Media Office)(Libya News)(Libya’s Channel)(ISIS Wilayat Tarablus Media Office)(Good Morning Libya)(al-Wasat)(Twitter)(Twitter)(al-Arabiya)(Libya Observer)(GNC Statement)(Libya Herald)