Libya Body Count 2014-2016

Libya Body Count data comes from libyabodycount.org, a project which aims to catalog the victims of Libya’s ongoing violence after the 2011 revolution.

LBC releases data structured to include dates, locations, brief notes about the incident, numbers of victims, names of victims, and news articles covering the incident. According to the group’s own methodology (libyabodycount.org/about/), they have taken care not to double count victims by verifying incidents in multiple news sources when possible, and by minimizing reliance on social media except to verify incidents already covered in other news sources. Official reports released by governmental bodies are also used to verify news articles, though dates and names are not always clear in these sources. Furthermore, the group’s methodology identifies their bias toward a conservative approach to counting deaths in Libya. When there are conflicting accounts about the number of deaths in a given incident, the smaller number is chosen.

Despite LBC’s professed conservative approach and aversion to exaggeration, the scale of Libya’s tragedy is enormous. Since the organization started counting deaths at the beginning of 2014, they have recorded over 5000 killed. Estimates for the number of deaths during the conflict prior to Gaddafi’s overthrow are around 15,000 according to the UN Human Rights Council.

The situation in Libya since Gaddafi’s ousting has been characterized by competing and incomplete sovereignty, principally between the two rival governments, but also among various militia groups and Islamist and Jihadist factions. As a result, compiling a complete account of deaths by violent causes in the country as a whole had not been possible, or indeed aligned with any group’s interests, until the advent of the LBC project.

Before truly working with LBC’s data, some minor massaging was needed, mostly related to the locations cited therein. Because transliteration is often fraught with errors (see: EXPLAINED! Why No One Knows How The Hell To Spell Qaddafi/Gadhafi/Gaddafi/Qadhafi), some place names needed to be made consistent before moving the data into Tableau (Bayda vs Baidha, Nawfiliyah vs Nawfliya, etc.). And once in Tableau, many locations had to be geocoded with their Lat/Long because they did not appear in the list of known places (shamefully, I employed brute-force Googling to accomplish this). Finally, in the line graph portion, I identified each day’s deadliest incident with a link to the related article. Similarly, in the map, I identified each location’s deadliest incident and each location’s most recent incident with their respective links.

The first large spike in the LBC data, in January 2014, can be attributed to skirmishes in southern Libya. Tebu gunmen kidnapped and killed the commander of a brigade of revolutionaries outside of Sebha. This event, layered on top of longstanding marginalization of the Tebu during Gaddafi’s rule and violent clashes in 2012, sparked two weeks of violence and led to the deaths of dozens of fighters on either side.

In Tripoli, the end of 2013 saw the General National Congress (GNC) extending its own mandate by a full year until January 2015, without holding elections. This announcement was met with clashes and protests in Libya’s largest cities. On February 14th, 2014, General Khalifa Haftar called for the GNC to be dissolved and for a new body to be elected to steward the post-revolution political process.

By May 2014, Haftar had galvanized his supporters into the Operation Dignity faction, including Zintani militias, commanders from the Libyan armed forces, and various tribal groups. Opposing Haftar’s coalition was Operation Libya Dawn, which comprised forces loyal to the GNC, powerful Islamist militias from Misrata, militia forces from Zawia, and some Jihadi groups.

The conflict between these two broad coalitions characterized most of the violence in Libya in 2014, and the LBC data bears this out. The graph’s densest activity falls within this time period with various spikes marking major battles for territory and battles to consolidate power in the east of the country under Operation Dignity. A clear drop in the magnitude and frequency of deadly incidents occurs once the two sides agree to a ceasefire in mid-January 2015.

Immediately following the ceasefire, there were a number of deaths as Eastern groups rooted out Islamist elements in Benghazi. Additionally, Egyptian aircraft conducted strikes on ISIS targets in Derna on February 16th in retaliation for ISIS publishing a video of the massacre of Egyptian, Christian workers kidnapped in Libya. And in turn, ISIS carried out one of the deadliest attacks since the overthrow of Ghaddafi (40 killed), in Qubbah, hometown of a prominent politician, Aguilah Saleh, in the internationally recognized House of Representatives.

Another noticeable spike corresponds to the August 2015 clashes in Sirt as ISIS fought armed militias and residents for complete control over the city. January 2016 also contains a large spike, which is identified as the bombing of a Libyan Coast Guard training facility near Zliten in which 70 died.

There is also one apparent spike in the data is actually not attributable to a discreet event. Rather this is a news article which combined a period of increased violent crime (robberies, brawls, and stray bullets) into a death toll of 70. This is visible on May 9th in the data, and the link to the article gives further detail.