An Introduction to Tripoli’s Armed Factions

Tripoli, Libya’s capital city, has seen governance by a range of armed forces with shifting loyalties. Since the conflict began in 2011, these militias have navigated changing political landscapes and internal conflicts. Despite this, control over Tripoli stabilized. Armed groups united under the then-Government of National Accord against Major General Khalifa Haftar’s attempted capture in June 2020.

Furthermore, despite operating under government names and with multiple security capacities during different governance eras, these armed groups now display superficial government affiliations. Examples include official crests and online presence. However, their actions diverge significantly from those of traditional law enforcement and military units. Almost all of these groups are implicated in the city’s violence, ranging from inter-group clashes to kidnappings and forced disappearances.

While numerous armed factions operate in Tripoli and its vicinity, not all hold significant sway or territorial control. Here are the most notable armed groups currently active in Tripoli.

1.0 The RADA Special Deterrence Forces

Commander: Abdul Raouf Kara
Ministry Affiliation: Libyan Presidential Council
Headquarters: Mitiga base, Tripoli

1.1: History and Disposition 

Officially called the “Deterrence Agency for Combating Terrorism and Organized Crime this armed group more commonly called the Special Deterrence Brigade and is one of the factions involved in the current fighting in Tripoli. Established in 2013, it was led by Lieutenant Abdul Raouf Kara, a Salafist, and comprised a group of “revolutionaries.” 

In 2018, the Government of National Accord disbanded and reorganized the battalion, renaming it the “Deterrence Agency for Combating Terrorism and Organized Crime.” It was granted authority to establish branches nationwide and bestowed with extensive powers for arrests and investigations. These decisions significantly increased the battalion’s significance and their official statements often claim that they are fighting crime in Tripoli. 

Backed by the government, RADA’s military strength and resources enabled it to extend control and influence beyond Tripoli to areas such as Tarhuna, Bani Walid, Zliten, and Al-Khoms, located east of the city [source]. Moreover, it had the authority to carry out arrest campaigns across western regions under the pretext of security enforcement.

The battalion received authorization from the current Presidential Council to execute the Public Prosecutor’s orders and conduct arrests. However, despite these powers, its involvement in numerous armed incidents in Tripoli did not alter its status as a militia. Reports from United Nations experts accuse the group of engaging in violent acts and trafficking in people [source]. Additionally, its conflicting stance on Haftar’s militias’ assault on the capital, Tripoli, arises from its ineffective involvement in protecting the city.

1.2 Activities 

The Deterrence Forces often publicise counterterrorism efforts and law enforcement actions. Recent clashes have also led to some announcements about moving facilities. Some examples include:

  • On 5 January 2024, the Deterrence Service for Combating Terrorism and Crime in Libya announced the arrest of the governor of ISIS in Libya, Hashim Abu Sidra, who carried out the massacre of Copts in Sirte, Libya, in 2016 [source].
  • On 23 January 2024, The Deterrence Service for Combating Terrorism and Organized Crime published for the first time the confessions of a number of criminals involved in these networks who were arrested earlier in cooperation with the Anti-Illegal Immigration Service [source].
  • On 8 February 2024, the Deterrence Service for Combating Terrorism and Organized Crime announced that they would withdraw from Mitiga International Airport and the Tripoli seaport. [source; source].

2.0 The Stability Support Apparatus

Commander: Abdel Ghani al-Kikli
Ministry Affiliation: National unity government
Headquarters: The Al-Falah area in the capital

2.1 History and Disposition 

The SSA It is the name given to the 2012-founded Abu Salim Brigade. The original brigade was headed by Abdel-Ghani Al-Kakli, a non-military individual who took part in the revolution of February 2011. It first established its headquarters in Abu Salim, the most well-known and sizable area in the city, before extending its sphere of influence to encompass the surrounding communities.

The SSA participated in numerous armed incidents across the capital, including Bab Ben Ghashir, Sharqiya, Al-Hadba, and Tripoli, notably at the former Ministry of Interior headquarters. It aligned primarily with local government authorities, receiving continuous financial backing, procurement of equipment, and substantial payments as a result.

In mid-2021, during the National Unity Government era, the Ministry of Interior rebranded the Abu Salim Battalion as the “Stability Support Apparatus” (SSA). With this designation, the agency gained authority to establish headquarters and branches in areas west of the capital, including Sabratha and Al-Zawiya cities.

2.1 Activities 

SSA frequently claim that they fight illegal migration, smuggling, and other crimes through their official social media channels. These include: 

  • On 3 February, the Stabilization Support Service office was able to arrest about 100 illegal immigrants of different nationalities as they illegally crossed Libyan territory across the Tunisian border [source].
  • On 1 February, the Stabilization Support Service office was able to arrest 34 illegal immigrants of different African nationalities [source].
  • On 24 January, The Stabilization Support Service Office was able to arrest a number of outlaws as part of its efforts to combat drug trafficking [source].

3.0  The 444th Infantry Brigade

Commander: Mahmoud Hamza
Ministry Affiliation: The Government of National Unity’s defence ministry
Headquarters: Al-Takbali camp, south of the capital, Tripoli

3.1 History and Disposition

The 444th brigade, founded by Colonel Mahmoud Hamza, a notable commander of the Special Deterrence Battalion, fractured and created the 20:20 Battalion. In 2021, the Chief of Staff under the National Unity Government authorized the establishment of the “444th Combat Brigade,” functioning under the Ministry of Defense. It broadened its influence in neighborhoods southwest of the capital, including Ain Zara, Al-Farnaj, Salah al-Din, and Qasr Bin Ghashir, by controlling key camps, notably the Yarmouk camp and Tripoli Military District headquarters.Control also extends beyond Tripoli itself to Tarhuna and Bani Walid, Mount Nafusa, and to Al-Shuwayrif. This large region gives the 444th an opportunity to extend its influence and compete for legitimacy with the RADA by making a show of combating illegal immigration and organised crime.

Compared to other armed groups in Tripoli, the 444th is more organised and includes former soldiers from the Gaddafi regime [source].

3.2 Activities

The 444th often publicises its efforts to combat smuggling and other crimes to position itself as a credible law enforcement authority. Examples include:

  • On 31 January 2024, the 444th Brigade, south of the city of Mizda, arrested alleged smugglers and burned their car [source].
  • On 21 January 2024, the 444th Brigade seized convoys of trucks carrying smuggled fuel that were heading outside the country [source].
  • On 15 January 2024, the 444th Brigade raided a house and arrested two smugglers. They allegedly seized “3 kilograms” of hashish and a number of weapons, ammunition and hand grenades [source].

4.0 Public Security Service

Commander: Imed Trabelsi
Ministry Affiliation: National unity government
Headquarters: Tobacco factory, Tripoli, Libya

4.1 History and Disposition

The Public Security Service is a moniker given to the Special Operations Force, which was made up of former members of the Al-Sawaiq Brigade from Zintan, a city located far to the west of Tripoli, as well as new recruits. One of its leaders, Major Imad Trabelsi, established the “Special Operations Force” following the latter’s defeat by the Libya Dawn forces. In July 2018, the Government of National Accord issued a decision designating its forces as the “General Security and Security Centers Service,” with Major Trabelsi serving as commander. Several regions west of Tripoli are under the authority of the security forces. They set up a headquarters in a Tobacco Factory in Ghout al-Shaal, which remains their official headquarters as of 2024 [source].

4.2 Activities

The Public Security Service positions itself as a crime fighting agency. For instance, the agency announced a new operations centre in early 2023 to better coordinate law enforcement activities. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba appointed the General Security Service’s commander, Imad Trabelsi, as the government’s Minister of the Interior in November 2022. Despite this, the agency’s personnel and equipment continue to operate independently, just like other Tripoli armed forces. [Source]

5.0 The 111th Brigade Majhfal

Commander: Abdul Salam Zobi
Ministry Affiliation: National unity government
Headquarters: Camp Hamza in the Airport Road area

5.1 History and Disposition

Previously known as the 301st Infantry Battalion, The 111th is led by Abdul Salam Zobi, a civilian who took part in the effort to protect the capital against the onslaught of Haftar’s forces. He oversaw a number of armed formations until the Ministry of Defense of the National Unity Government appointed him commander of a military brigade that unites the armed factions operating under his leadership Following his active involvement in blocking Major General Osama al-Juwaili’s forces’ intervention to support the House of Representatives’ appointment of Fathi Bashagha, the former president of the government to regain their areas of control in the capital. In August of last year, he was stationed in the southwest of the capital as a line of defence for the city.

5.2 Activities

Despite aligning itself with the Libyan military more than most of Tripoli’s armed groups, the 111th frequently announces law enforcement activity such as stopping smugglers. [Source] They are also sometimes called in as a neutral party when other armed groups clash. On 29 October 2023, the 111th Brigade deployed to the city of Gharyan south of Tripoli after clashes between gunmen connected to two other armed factions [source]. 

6.0 Janzour Knights Battalion

Commander: Muhammad Al-Baroni
Ministry Affiliation: National unity government
Headquarters: Lye soap factory

6.1 History and Disposition

“Janzour“ refers to an area in Western Tripoli. The Janzour Knights was founded in 2012 after its members helped topple the Gaddafi government. The group had previously taken part in Operation Libya Dawn in 2014, but it declined to help repel Haftar’s attack on Tripoli. 

In addition to Janzour itself, this battalion is tasked with policing the region that stretches from the sea shore in the north to the city of Injila in the south, and from Al-Ghiran Island in the east to the 17th Bridge in the west. The Janzour Knights has a presence in the Palm City Resort, which is home to government ministers, members of diplomatic missions, members of the Supreme Council of State, and residents of international and international organisations. They battalion also maintains control over a number of important installations and facilities, such as the Libyan Academy, the Academy of Marine Studies, the Environment Public Authority, the General Water Authority, and the headquarters of the United Nations mission [source].

6.2 Activities 

Janzour Knights affect a lot of the aesthetics of law enforcement, including conducting traffic stops and an emergency number residents can ostensibly call to receive help. Nonetheless, they are also one of the armed groups involved in the city’s numerous forced disappearances and kidnappings. They also occasionally clash with other armed groups located near their area of influence. [Source; Source] For instance:

  • On 29 January, press reported that Janzour Knights personnel kidnapped a local activist and took him to the Special Deterrence Force prison in Mitaga [Source].
  • On 17 February the Janzour Knights exchanged gunfire with Public Security Services personnel in western Tripoli [Source].

7.0 The Future of Tripoli’s Armed Groups 

Tripoli’s armed groups are intricately linked to local and global dynamics. Moreover, there are indications that the intense violence witnessed in 2019-2020 may not resurface due to a tacit agreement among Russia, Turkey, and their allies within Libya. However, this peace exists alongside a lack of motivation among Libyan factions to prioritize democratic governance. Additionally, the potential succession of influential figures like Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar could disrupt existing power dynamics but might also lead to a relatively smooth transition to new leadership.

In Tripoli, armed groups wield considerable control over governmental structures, suppressing dissent and evading accountability. Recent events, such as violent clashes between the 444th Battalion and the Special Deterrence Force, highlight the volatile situation. Furthermore, these groups assert dominance through presidential decrees, granting them powers of arrest, surveillance, and detention, thereby consolidating their grip on power.

Furthermore, eastern and western military factions increasingly constrain civil society. Reports highlight trends such as armed group encroachment into state structures, propagation of conservative ideologies, and arbitrary citizen detention. Regardless of Libya’s future, leaders must confront the power and influence of armed groups nominally under their control.

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