Burkan al-Ghadab Militants’ Display of Force Highlights Deepening Turkish Influence in Libya

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 11

A security officer front of the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli (source: arabic.rt.com)

On May 7, armed militiamen stormed the Corinthia Hotel compound that was being used as one of the headquarters for the interim government in the Libyan capital of Tripoli (al-Hadath, May 8). Social media videos showed militants searching cars and asking for the location of Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush (al-Marsad, May 7). The militants eventually departed and were later promised a meeting with the President of the Presidential Council, Muhammad Menfi (RT Arabic, May 8).

The militants were aligned with Burkan al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage), a coalition of militias tasked by the previous Tripoli-based government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), to defend Tripoli from the assault launched by the eastern Libyan-based Libya National Army (LNA) in April 2019. [1] Earlier in the day on May 7, the militia had met to discuss recent statements by Mangoush and the appointment of Hussein al-Ayeb as the replacement for Imad Trabelsi as head of intelligence within the new unified Libyan government (Al-Ain, May 8).

In a statement posted by Burkan al-Ghadab’s media office, the militia insisted that Mangoush should be dismissed for calling for the complete departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country, without making an exception for the Turkish military (Burkan al-Ghadab, May 7). The statement, praising “brotherly” Turkey for being the only country to answer the GNA’s call to intervene and protect civilians during the LNA assault, made clear Burkan al-Ghadab’s proximity to Ankara. Burkan al-Ghadab also denounced both al-Ayeb and Mangoush’s alleged previous alignment with General Khalifa Haftar of the LNA.

Libya’s Continued Security Fragmentation

Libya made significant progress toward political unity after a ceasefire between the LNA and the GNA was brokered by the UN in October 2020, leading to a unity government headed by interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh (DW, March 10). The government’s agenda was to reunify state institutions before nationwide general elections in December 2021.

Despite the progress in the political realm, the Libyan security environment remains fragmented among a multiplicity of various non-state actors. While in Tripoli the GNA has now been disbanded, the domestic militia groups that were aligned with and sponsored by the GNA remain. The GNA had used militia groups to provide law and order in Tripoli and they made up the bulk of the fighting force that repelled the LNA assault on the capital. In exchange, militias burrowed themselves into the Tripoli-based state infrastructure, accruing significant influence. [2] The Hotel Corinthia incident showcases the continued intent of these militias to exert similar influence on the new interim government.

Likewise, the foreign militia presence has remained largely unchanged since the October 2020 ceasefire. The expiration of the 90-day deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya, which was contracted within October 2020’s ceasefire agreement, passed without any reduction in foreign troop presence (al Jazeera, May 15). While the UN has since agreed to deploy a small ceasefire monitoring team, none of the international powers involved in the Libyan conflict, including Turkey, Russia, and the UAE, have shown any commitment to reducing military activity in the country (UN, April 16).

The Burkan al-Ghadab-Turkey Connection

Burkan al-Ghadab’s attempted storming of the Corinthia Hotel represents Turkey’s success in turning the militia group into a de facto Turkish proxy.

The Turkish government is keen to safeguard its economic interests in Libya, including almost $35 billion in Libyan contracts and a 2019 maritime border delineation agreement. Turkey’s strengthened links to the GNA militias in the face of the LNA assault resulted in the GNA benefiting from increased Turkish financial support, arms supplies, and coordination with Turkish military advisors. Ankara also attached itself ideologically to the more Islamist-leaning militias by housing in Turkey influential Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani. Turkey has used Ghariani to legitimize and praise the Turkish role in Libya. [3] Now with the GNA replaced by the interim unity government, Turkey has become the main patron of several once nominally GNA-aligned militias.

The interim government, which remains based in Tripoli, has a fading interest in appeasing the militias based in the city, such as Burkan al-Ghadab, as the ceasefire continues to hold and the frontline has solidified around Sirte, which is 400 kilometers east of the capital. This has significantly increased militia motivation to counter its waning influence by further aligning with Turkey.

Burkan al-Ghadab’s strong reaction to Mangoush’s call for the absolute departure of foreign military troops from Libya is likely to have been directed by Turkey. Burkan al-Ghadab’s statement in condemnation of Mangoush mimics Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s defense of the Turkish military presence in Libya almost word for word. [4] A day before the incident at the Corinthia Hotel, Turkey-based Ghariani launched a verbal assault on Mangoush, describing her as insolent and an agent of the enemy before calling on Burkan al-Ghadab to equally denounce her (al-Arabiya, May 7). Media linked to the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has itself been strongly backed by Turkey since 2012, also published edited clips of Mangoush criticizing previous GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj at a 2019 seminar. Mangoush in the same seminar equally criticized Haftar (al-Marsad, May 8).

Mangoush’s statements regarding the departure of foreign forces cannot be seen as particularly controversial to anyone, except for Turkey. The withdrawal of foreign forces is contracted within the October 2020 ceasefire agreement and has been backed by two unanimous UN Security Council resolutions.

Unintended Consequences Ahead

For Turkey, influence over Tripoli’s militia groups is seen as vital to maintaining its economic and military interests in the country in the longer term. Turkey’s military presence and the maritime border delineation agreement, both agreed upon by the former GNA administration in 2019, have received both tacit and explicit support by interim Prime Minister Dbeibeh (Andalou Agency, March 9).  However, Turkey knows that Dbeibeh is likely to remain an interim leader and December’s elections could lead to a very different Libyan position on both fronts. Turkey knows even if a new Libyan executive power or mounting international pressure forces it to withdraw either its own troop presence or the portion of the roughly 13,000 Syrian militants that it sent to fight in Libya, it could still wield leverage in the country through its domestic militia groups.

However, increasing alignment with Turkey is likely to have unintended consequences for Burkan al-Ghadab. Many Tripoli militias attained their local legitimacy by defending the city from the LNA assault of 2019 and from participation in the 2011 revolution. If the militia’s fighters continue to act as a tool used by a foreign country, Turkey, to exert pressure against decisions or statements considered unfavorable, then they risk losing any remaining domestic credibility. This could lead to renewed inter-militia conflict in Tripoli, particularly if the ceasefire continues to hold.

Turkey simply does not have the soft power to attract support from all of Tripoli’s militias, several of which have contrasting ideological orientations and loyalties. [5] Without the existential threat posed by the LNA’s assault, militias jealous of Burkan al-Ghadab’s clout could use Turkish influence over it as a pretext to commence hostilities. In sum, despite the political progress made in Libya since October 2020, without significant security sector reform leading to the monopoly of state control over armed force, long-term stability in the country remains unlikely.


[1] See Jason Pack, “Kingdom of Militias: Libya’s Second War of Post-Qadhafi Succession” (Italian Institute for International Political Studies, May 2019)

[2] See Wolfram Lacher, “Tripoli’s Militia Cartel” (German Institute for International and Security Affairs, April 2018)

[3] Ghariani publicly supported the GNA-Turkey Maritime Memorandum (Andalou Agency, December 12 2019), called upon Libyans to stage demonstrations in support of Turkey’s cooperation with the Libyan government (Andalou Agency, July 9 2020), and claimed that anyone who denies Turkey’s benevolence does not deserve respect (Arab Weekly, May 12)

[4] Both claimed that the Turkish presence in Libya cannot be compared to foreign mercenary groups fighting in the country (Associated Press, May 3)

[5] See Karim Mezran, “Libya 2021: Islamists, Salafis and Jihadis” (Wilson Center, March 2021)