Understanding the regional and transnational networks that facilitate IED use

Known perpetrators of IED incidents in the past five years: Baloch Liberation Tigers, New People’s Army, IS Libya Province and Lashkar e Jhangvi

Baloch Liberation Tigers

The Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT) is an armed group fighting for the independence of Balochistan from Pakistan, and is opposed to democratic measures promoting the Baloch cause. The group emerged in 2011, and carries out IED attacks on both civilian and military targets, primarily in the Balochistan region. Very little has been reported on the Baloch Liberation Tigers, and little is known about the organisation. A spokesman for the group purportedly stated that the victims of a gun massacre carried out by the BLT near the Iranian border in July 2012 were targeted because of their Punjabi ethnicity. The group has also targeted people celebrating Pakistan’s Independence Day. The BLT’s attacks therefore suggest a strong ethno-nationalist ideology, which is present among other Baloch nationalist groups, such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), as well. Balochistan has been heavily affected by terrorism. In northern parts of the region, groups such as the TTP and the Taliban are present (the Taliban have their headquarters in the Baloch city of Quetta), while Baloch nationalist groups are active in southern areas.

New People’s Army

The New People’s Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and is a Maoist organisation that engages in guerrilla warfare. The group has as its goal to overthrow the Philippine government and rid the country of US influence. The NPA mainly attacks government targets and US interests, often employing IEDs, and is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, the EU and the Philippine government. The NPA was established by José Maria Sison in 1969 on the Philippines’ largest island, Luzon, and the group made early efforts to gain popularity with rural populations. The group also provoked military crackdowns from the Ferdinand Marcos regime, something which drew many new members to join the NPA and the CPP during the 1970s and 1980s. The 1990s and 2000s have seen the NPA and the Philippine government going back and forth between negotiations and engaging in combat.

Although primarily a rural-based guerrilla group, the NPA has an active urban infrastructure to carry out acts of terrorism, using city-based assassination squads called sparrow units. It derives most of its funding from the contributions of supporters, and so-called revolutionary taxes extorted from local businesses. With the US military presence in the country diminishing, the NPA has engaged in urban terrorism against the police, corrupt politicians, and drug traffickers. The NPA’s hierarchical structure is kept deliberately opaque. As part of the CPP, the group is still under José Maria Sison’s command, despite his having lived in exile in the Netherlands since 1986. The NPA has a military commander and its own National Operational Command, but is not considered to be independent of the CPP. Throughout its existence, the NPA has received funds and weapons from other left-wing militias around the world, such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, and the Communist Party of El Salvador. They are also said to have cooperated tactically with Philippine groups such as the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

IS Libya Province

IS Libya Province was established in 2014, when militants in Libya pledged allegiance to IS. IS Libya’s roots can be traced back to the Battar Brigade, a group of militants from Derna in eastern Libya who were active in the Syrian conflict, where they reportedly carried out attacks against Jabhat al-Nusra. These fighters later returned to Derna and founded the Islamic Youth Shura Council (ISYC). When an Islamic State delegation arrived in Derna in 2014, the ISYC pledged allegiance to IS, who subsequently announced the creation of Wilayat Barqah (Libya Province). The group quickly seized important cities, most notably the coastal town of Sirte, which they ruled in a similar manner to that practised by IS in cities such as Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Sirte is, incidentally, located close to many of Libya’s most significant oil fields. However, IS Libya has been on the back foot throughout 2016, and forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have virtually driven it out of Sirte. Despite losing its stronghold, the group still has a strong presence in Libya, with an estimated 5,000 IS fighters in the country. The group is led by Saudi jihadi Abdelkader al-Najdi, who has been in command since March 2016.

IS Libya has been able to exploit the chaos and circulation of weaponry in the country in its usage of IEDs. Qaddafi reportedly stockpiled a significant quantity of munitions, worth billions of US dollars. These were distributed freely to various factions loyal to Qaddafi at the outbreak of the initial Libyan conflict in 2011. International coalition airstrikes inadvertently aided the dispersal of munitions.  The targeting of ammunition bunkers with airstrikes often meant that instead of munitions being destroyed, ordnance was scattered across open fields. This led to widespread and systematic looting by various armed groups, including IS Libya Province. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reports that there are 19 undamaged and 17 damaged or destroyed unsecured Ammunition Storage Areas (ASAs) in Libya. It is believed the majority of these also have a large quantity of bunkers ranging in number anywhere from 20 to 117, which are capable of holding thousands of tonnes of ammunition and weapons each. The majority of these are damaged, unserviceable and unsecured and so pose a major threat to human safety. These unsecured munitions have spread rapidly to various armed factions, who are easily able to utilise them in IED attacks. IS in particular has conducted IED attacks on various energy and military installations in the country. These capabilities are further evidenced by the fact that Libyan forces discovered ‘IED factories’ in Sirte in July 2016.

Lashkar e Jhangvi

Founded in the mid-90s, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) has been responsible for several IED attacks and suicide bombings in Pakistan. Ideologically inspired by Deobandi Sunnism, a majority of LeJ attacks are driven by a sectarian agenda and have targeted the Shia Hazara community in Balochistan. Iranian involvement in the Syrian Civil War has further inspired attacks on Shia and Iranian targets. LeJ is said to provide support and protection to other terror groups in Pakistan, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and there is supposed overlap between its membership and members of both al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan.

This post is part of the report, “Understanding the regional and transnational networks that facilitate IED use”. To see the sections of the report please go here. This research was undertaken with assistance from the NATO Counter-IED Centre of Excellence.