The Presidency Council of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) today issued a decree turning a Tripoli-based militia into a national security apparatus with almost unlimited powers.
According to the new decree, the militia known as the Special Deterrence Force (SDF) which has been acting since 2014 as Tripoli’s main police and counterterrorism force, will have its powers boosted and get to operate on the national level with branches across the country.
The decree states that the SDF will be dissolved and have all its members, weapons and resources reintegrated into the new security organization which would be named ‘the Deterrence Apparatus for Combating Organized Crime and Terrorism’ (DACOT). The new organization will have its own independent budget, which it will receive from the GNA, and will be reporting to GNA’s interior minister.
The new organization will have plenty of room to perform a wide range of security duties including combating organized crime, migration control at airports and other border exits, cybersecurity and counterterrorism.
But is this a good move for the country?
In principle, reintegration of militias into state security agencies is a long overdue goal of the country’s consecutive post-revolution governments and any step taken in that direction is a welcome move. In addition, disbanding the SDF will pull the rug from beneath the feet of the likes of Bashir Bogra and Salah-Eddin Baadi who have been using Abd al-Raouf Karah, SDF’s commander, as pretext for repeated attacks against the GNA and Tripoli’s Mitiqa airport.
Like any militia, the SDF has its own agenda, however its overall performance over the last 4 years has been very constructive. Not only has the SDF served as the main security provider for GNA offices and critical facilities in the country’s capital, but without its efforts there is no doubt that the Islamic State would have been able to mount successful attacks against Western and security targets in Tripoli including hotels, embassies, police stations and prisons. The SDF has single-handedly eradicated the Islamic State in Tripoli. In some occasions the militia has acted as a state agency representing Libya on counterterrorism and migration cooperation with foreign countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. In counterterrorism, SDF ranks include many professional officers from Gaddafi’s Internal and External Security Organizations.
The decree did not lack controversy. Article (4) gave DACOT the power to monitor online activities of individuals whom it deems “suspicious”. The article states: “In exceptional conditions required by the common good, members of the Apparatus would have the right to use modern technology to track wired and wireless communications as well as the social media websites when there is credible information placing its users in the circle of suspicion to cause harm to the country’s security, societal peace and national security. This should be conducted after permission from the judiciary and under its supervision.” These are broad labels under which any Libyan could be targeted by DACOT’s invasive actions.
The other controversial bit is Article (9) which reads: “The Apparatus will have the following financial resources: 1- an allocated amount of the government budget. 2 – Whatever gets confiscated in relation to crimes including money, properties and possessions which gets confiscated according to the relevant provisions of the Libyan law.”
DACOT’s director would be named by the Presidency Council based on nomination by the interior minister. The organization will also have its deputy director who would be named by the interior minister based on nomination by the director.
It remains unclear whether Mr Karah would have any role in the new organization. If he does, his Islamist opponents will see GNA’s move as promotion and reward rather than a genuine strategy to tackle militias. It is worth noting, however, that with the exception of LIFG and Muslim Brotherhood supporters who hate him for ideological rivalry related to his ‘quietist Salafi’ background, Mr Karah remains popular within large segments of the country’s population mainly for the role he played in tackling crime and the Islamic State threat in Tripoli.
Other prominent figures within the SDF are Hashim Bishr, who currently serves as a security advisor for the GNA, Khalid Heshri (aka al-Bowty), the governor of Mitiqa prison, and Ahmed bin Youssef, Mr Karah’s close aide.