There are clear signs of jihadist efforts to infiltrate Libya, and even signs of some possible success for al-Qa`ida in establishing a limited presence in Libya. Security officials must be vigilant for signs of support for al-Qa`ida among Libyan militias and further expansion of the group’s reach, especially evidence of training and indoctrination of Libyans by al-Qa`ida-linked figures.
It appears that AQIM in particular has chosen to profit from the Libyan unrest by seizing weapons, but have remained ensconced in safe havens in northern Mali and Algeria. The same cannot be definitively said for other al-Qa`ida-linked figures, who are accustomed to operating clandestinely when setting up funding and operational networks and may be doing the same in Libya. Given al-Qa`ida’s expressed interest in the country and the key role Libyan militants have historically played in the organization, this concern cannot be easily dismissed.
For the moment, though, armed jihadists—especially those sharing al-Qa`ida’s extreme ideology—do not appear to be in a position to contest the fragile Libyan state. Ultimately, while there are more than the “flickers” of al-Qa`ida in Libya first suggested by NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis in March 2011, there is not enough information to determine if the group has the means, or even the desire, to set up a durable presence in the country—especially when Western governments and special forces are keeping a keen eye on Libya, and opposing armed militias remain ready to protect their own power and influence.