Libya is back in the news again as Egypt began bombing the country after ISIS beheaded a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians in the Libyan city of Derna, just over the border the two countries share.
That — understandably — could leave you confused. ISIS has been operating in Iraq and Syria, where they've carved out a sizable chunk of territory and the U.S. and other countries are fighting them. But now Libya? Egypt?
So let's backtrack and see how we got here.
Back in 2011, at the apex of the "Arab Spring," Libyans rose up in protest again longtime ruler Muammar al-Qaddafi. The United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the rest of NATO got a United Nations mandate to launch a No-Fly Zone to prevent the mass murder of civilians in the eastern city of Benghazi. That mission soon expanded, however, and ended with Qaddafi being overthrown, captured, and murdered on camera by rebels.
NATO initially declared their Libya campaign a success. A transitional government was installed and the country declared itself a democracy, holding historic elections. It also tried to rebuild a civil society that had gone stagnant under Qaddafi.
Those efforts were hampered by the fact that, though NATO provided air support, the civil war in Libya was won by a bunch of disparate militias, allied only to take out Qaddafi. Afterwards, the new government tried to rein them in but that went poorly.
Some militias opted to be placed under the nominal control of the Libyan Defense Ministry.
The February 17th Brigade in particular was considered friendly enough that the United States thought that they would help protect the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Others were less supportive but seen as being more moderate while still wanting Libya to be a state run under rules supported by the Quran. Others, like Ansar al-Sharia, are decidedly more devoted to a hardline interpretation of Islam to the point that several of them are either communicating with or outright aligned with al-Qaeda. Both of the latter groups have been lumped together as "Islamist" groups at certain times, depending on the context.