On 25 October the bodies of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi and his son Mutassim were secretly buried, ending a dispute that had raged since their killing in questionable circumstances in the town of Sirte. Since Gadhafi was certainly captured alive, as evidenced by video footage, pressure has been placed on the National Transitional Council (NTC) to investigate the deaths and it has somewhat reluctantly agreed to do so. The incident has further tarnished the NTC’s image, which had already been degraded by factional infighting and allegations of mass torture of up to 7,000 Gadhafi loyalists.
Whilst an important milestone, Gadhafi’s death and the fall of Sirte may not herald a decisive end to fighting. His most effective heir, Sayf al-Islam, remains at large and has vowed to continue the campaign against the rebels. He is believed still to be liaising with Gadhafi’s former head of intelligence, General Abdullah Senussi, who seems successfully to have fled the country into Niger. It is probable therefore that this is where he too will end up, especially as it is a comparably welcoming base, despite most of his surviving family now being in Algeria. Gadhafi loyalists have previously mounted targeted terrorist attacks and such activity remains possible.
However, the main struggle now to watch will be the political one inside the NTC. The fall of Sirte triggered the body to announce the end of the conflict (although NATO has been asked to extend its mission) and the acting Prime Minister has stepped down, as promised. Islamist groups remain the most highly funded bodies due to substantial donations from Qatar, which has bypassed the international assistance framework to supply what Doha clearly views as the future leadership of the country; the development of the untapped Libyan natural gas reserves is naturally attractive to the Qataris, who are particularly experienced in the field, partly explaining Doha’s sustained interest.
Islamist fighters are reported to be gaining in confidence, possibly because of this influx of investment and their prominent role in the last stages of the fighting. They represent a body that stands above tribal politics, giving them a clear advantage (particularly with al-Qaeda’s recent call for them to establish an Islamic state). However, some militias from the towns and cities where the revolution started are already refusing to work with the Islamist leaders and there is a strong sense of tribal and regional issues coming to the fore. The next two to four weeks are therefore likely to be particularly telling as regards forecasting the future prospects for security on the country, an issue that bears on many UK businesses.