Explosive violence trends and patterns in Libya (2011-2019)

  • The majority of explosive violence in Libya occurred in 2011 – civilian casualties in 2011 alone account for 39% of total casualties over the period
  • Between 2011-2019 Libya has seen 7,636 deaths and injuries from explosive violence
  • Of these, 70% (5,356) were civilians
  • 92% of civilian deaths and injuries were perpetrated in populated areas
  • Ground-launched explosive weapons were responsible for the most civilian harm in this period, with 48% of civilian deaths and injuries caused by such weapons

The first AOAV Explosive Violence Monitor in 2011 coincided with the toppling of Libya’s long-time president, Muammar Gaddafi, during the wave of popular protests that swept the Arab World that year. As a result, 2011 saw extremely high levels of explosive harm in Libya during popular uprisings against Gaddafi and the NATO intervention which took place on the side of the rebels. Over the course of the year, AOAV recorded 2,108 civilian deaths and injuries from explosives, meaning Libya was ranked as the fourth worst-affected country by explosive violence, behind Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is likely, however, that casualty figures were underreported by AOAV because of the difficulty in journalists accessing besieged cities, such as Sirte, where large-scale bombardments took place. In 2011, AOAV also recorded 696 civilian casualties resulting from air-launched explosive weaponry, the majority of which were attributed to NATO, who faced open criticism from the UN for neither investigating nor taking responsibility for these deaths and injuries.

2011 has been, by far, the worst year for explosive harm in Libya over the nine-year history of the AOAV Monitor, with 39% of all total civilian casualties recorded by AOAV occurring in that year. After the destruction of 2011, and the toppling of Gaddafi late that year, Libya entered a period of comparative calm. Although the country lacked a single effective government, civilian harm from explosive violence remained at much lower levels from 2012 to 2014. Whilst there were many positive trends in the patterns of explosive harm in this period, such as no civilian deaths or injuries reported from air-launched weapons in 2012 or 2013, there were signs of increases in other forms of violence. Most notably was the fact that AOAV recorded the first suicide attack in Libya in December 2013 – the following year it recorded five.

After the downward trend in explosive violence from 2012 to 2014, Libya saw an 85% rise in civilian casualties in 2015, when compared with the previous year. Although levels of violence remained far from their 2011 heights, the 567 civilian deaths and injuries recorded by AOAV over the course of 2015 was cause for concern. Many of the casualties resulted from the escalation of violence as the internationally-recognised Libyan government attempted to reassert control over its territory. However, the 2015 Explosive Violence Monitor also reported patterns of violence reflective of different threats – most notably improvised explosive device (IED) incidents attributed to ISIS affiliates. Libya had been increasingly providing fertile ground for ISIS sympathisers, and the 247 civilian casualties attributed to ISIS affiliates recorded in 2015 was testament to this dangerous pattern.

In 2016, the internationally-recognised government in Libya merged with the other major administration to form a unity government to reassert control over its territories. This came about alongside an improvement in the country’s security situation and a consecutive fall in the number of civilian casualties recorded in 2016 and 2017. Although AOAV recorded a low of 163 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Libya in 2017, there was a 140% increase in casualties the following year, ending a short period in which violence in Libya seemed to be abating. 2018 also showed a stark shift away from civilian casualties brought about by state-led airstrikes, towards IEDs, predominantly used by ISIS. The 2018 Explosive Violence Monitor reported that IEDs were responsible for 81% of all reported civilian casualties, and when a perpetrating group was identified, ISIS claimed responsibility for all civilian casualties. While violence between divided Libyan forces was still causing civilian harm in the country and increasing instability, it was on a much smaller scale, with airstrikes accounting for only 5% of all civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence.

In 2019, AOAV recorded a further rise in levels of explosive violence, with the 2019 Monitor recording 906 civilian deaths and injuries, making Libya the fifth worst-affected country by explosive violence that year. Once again, 2019 saw a shift in the patterns of violence in Libya. Although IED use had been rising rapidly, responsible for 81% of civilian casualties in 2018, they accounted for just 8% of deaths and injuries in 2019. On the other hand, civilian casualties from airstrikes saw a 3000% increase from 2018 and accounted for 72% of all civilian harm in 2019. This trend reflected the rise in violence between Haftar and government forces throughout the year, as well as the involvement of a growing number of outside states in Libya using more ‘conventional’ explosive weaponry.

From 2011 to 2019, AOAV have recorded 5,356 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Libya. Although levels of violence have not again reached the extreme heights of 2011, the country and its citizens have been plagued by continuous insecurity over the past nine years – something AOAV has explored in part in its report on the impact of explosive weapons on children in Libya. We must also remain wary of the recent rises in casualties from explosive violence in Libya which create deep concern for the future of the nation and its people.

AOAV reports on explosive violence in Libya include: 

The impact of explosive weapons on children in Libya

News: explosive violence in Libya