Egypt Is Likely Bombing the Wrong Targets in Libya

Airstrikes Against Derna Are a Popular Diversion

Last week, gunmen attacked a busload of Coptic Christians heading to a monastery in southern Egypt. ISIS was quick to claim credit for the strike, and by the end of the first day, Egypt’s military junta responded with a flurry of airstrikes against militant camps outside of Derna, Libya.

The attacks were popular domestically, so they did some more, and have continued throughout the week striking Derna’s camps, claiming they pose a direct threat to Egypt. Analysts, however, say this is really unlikely, and that indeed these camps almost certainly have nothing to do with the bus attack that preceded them.

Derna is well known as an Islamist hub, with a lot of small factions starting up there. Indeed, the ISIS affiliate in Libya was located there at one time, though that was years ago. If ISIS indeed did the bus attack, and signs are that they probably did, it was likely Egypt’s own ISIS affiliate, not Libya’s, and either way, they had nothing to do with the Derna camps being hit.

Egypt has had long-standing problems with Islamist militant groups attacking their Christian minority, and those attacks have almost exclusively been homegrown. Reacting by attacking something in Libya was a convenient distraction for the junta, and when the Egyptian public started cheering their firm response, they just kept doing it.

At this point, however, Egyptian officials are freely admitting that they are “not targeting specific groups” with their airstrikes in Derna, and that they’re hitting random camps on the assumption that “all the groups targeted have the same ideology” as the bus attackers, which is good enough for them.

Indeed some analysts believe that Egypt’s junta, long keen on exporting their style of government to Libya by backing Gen. Khalifa Hifter, had been drawing up plans for attacks around Derna and other Islamist hotbeds in eastern Libya long before the bus attack happened, and this just served as a useful pretext to go ahead with them.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of