NEW DELHI: Libya, till recently, was touted as a successful example of western intervention -- where NATO-led airstrikes assisted in the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. World leaders heralded the turning of the “Arab spring” to the “Arab summer,” saluting the Libyan people’s courage in their fight against the “ruthless dictator.” Unsurprisingly -- as has become characteristic of western intervention across the middle east -- the jubilation was short-lived as bitter fighting tore the country into camps of rival militias seeking to fill the power vacuum that emerged after the fall of Gaddafi. This fighting took on a new context earlier this week, as the Islamic State released a brutal video showing the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya.

The beheading is all the more significant because it is the first attack of its kind by Islamic State militants outside of the group’s stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The video was released by the Islamic State’s media arm and was carried out by militants who say they are associated with the Tripoli Province of Islamic State -- a Libyan group that pledged allegiance to IS last year.

It also follows an attack on the luxurious Corinthia hotel in central Tripoli that killed nine people three weeks earlier that was claimed by the Islamic State. The militant group have also claimed other attacks -- including a series of attacks targeting empty embassies and local security buildings in Tripoli.

However, despite these attacks, it is not clear how much influence the group holds. For one, the Islamic State has seen success by capitalizing on the Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq and Syria, and sectarian tensions of this scale do not exist in Libya. The crisis in Libya is more directly concerned with the local power vacuum, and this context has led to many on social media wondering whether the group is really responsible for all the attacks it has claimed.

Nevertheless, this latest attack has changed the already fraught political landscape. The Egyptian government immediately condemned the beheading, with its military bombing Islamic State camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in Libya. This response could escalate Egypt’s role in Libya. In a nationally televised speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi said, “ Egypt “reserves the right to respond in the way and timing it sees fit for retribution from these killers.” Al Sisi has also previously said that Libya’s internal struggle poses a security risk to Egypt, and has thrown his political support behind Libya’s internationally recognized government, which has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow a rival Islamist government that controls the capital, Tripoli.

(Libya’s fraught political landscape. Source: BBC).

Egypt is already engaged in a fight against Islamic militants in the Sinai peninsula -- with Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), that has carried out a series of attacks on security forces in the region, having pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. “After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries,” the statement by the group said. The statement went on to ask Egyptians to rebel against "the tyrant," President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, declaring that “we will continue to fight the army until the day of judgment.”

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis are not the only group to pledge support to the Islamic State. IS’ followers includes the city of Derna in Eastern Libya, a Jordanian Salafi group, a handful of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Pakistani Taliban) leaders, a mosque in Denmark, a man in Texas, and even perhaps Boko Haram in Nigeria.

However, the Islamic State’s growing influence in Libya is of significance because it could prove to be a model for expansion for the militant group -- one that is based on taking advantage of political contexts characterised by infighting and paralysed governments.