Terrorism & Insurgency

Islamic State’s intent to disrupt elections in Iraq, Libya, and Tunisia will indicate group’s enduring capabilities

08 May 2018
A general view of the damage at the Libyan electoral commission headquarters in Tripoli, Libya, after it was targeted by suicide bombers on 2 May 2018. Source: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The attack in Tripoli was the latest of a series of attacks mounted by Islamic State militants targeting election-related sites and individuals in a number of countries where the group has a presence, notably Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Those attacks followed a 22 April audio message issued by the Islamic State’s spokesperson Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir and an increase in propaganda material focused on elections and democratic processes in Muslim-majority countries, which indicate a coherent strategy to reinvigorate the group’s support base and relevance in mainstream Islamic communities following the de-facto collapse of its caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Islamic State’s ability to follow through its threats will be a key indicator to assess the group’s current capabilities across the region and its ability to project guidance and provide support to multiple local affiliates.


On 2 May, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the double suicide attack that targeted the High National Election Commission (HNEC) office based in the Libyan capital Tripoli, killing 16 people.

According to Libyan media, the attack on the HNEC was carried out by two individuals who forced their way into the building and opened fire, before detonating suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs). At least 16 people were killed and 11 injured, including thee security guards, in the attack. In a statement released by the Islamic State official Amaq News Agency a few hours later, the group stated that the operation was in response to the call by the group’s spokesperson, Sheikh Abu al-Hasan al-Muhajir, to “target centres of polytheist elections and those who support them” on 22 April.

The last Islamic State-claimed attack in Tripoli was carried out in 2015, although the group remains highly active in central and southern areas of Libya. On 3 May, local media citing Libyan intelligence sources reported that around 300 Islamic State fighters have returned to Libya from Syria and Iraq during the past two months.

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