Libya’s ambassador to the UAE warns that militants affiliated with the Islamic State group are gaining ground in Libya. Dr. Aref Ali Nayed says that waiting for the formation of a national unity government will only work to IS’ advantage. He says the only way to beat the group is for all sides to work together. Empty shells and debris are strewn across the ground. This is the remnants of months of fighting in Libya’s second city. Troops loyal to the internationally recognised government in Tobruk say they have taken back large parts of Benghazi.
Islamist militias controlled the city until late last year, when government troops began battling them for control. The streets are largely empty now as soldiers work to secure the area. But piles of rubble litter the streets, buildings bear heavy damage – and occasional gunfire still echoes in the streets. Central authority has broken down in Libya since the ousting of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, with scores of competing militias battling each other and rival parliaments claiming legitimacy in opposite ends of the country. The situation has become more urgent with the rise of groups claiming allegiance to the radical Islamic State group. They’ve been carrying out increasingly daring attacks across the country – against both Tobruk and the Tripoli-based governments.
On Wednesday 12 fighters loyal to the militia-backed government based in the country’s capital, Tripoli, were killed by the group, according to a militia statement. The attack took place near the town of Nofaliya, close to the country’s main oil terminal overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and near the city of Sirte. It was the latest in a deadly campaign by IS extremists seeking to expand their foothold in the country and targeting Libya’s lucrative oil facilities. “The bad news is ISIS is already in Tripoli,” says Dr. Aref Ali Nayed. He’s the Libyan ambassador to the UAE, appointed by the internationally-recognized Tobruk government. “They have a few checkpoints in Tripoli. They have headquarters in the tobacco factory. They have set up in almost 12 towns and cities and have taken over the downtown of Sirte and also Sirte airport. And it is a very dangerous situation.” Libya is where the Islamic State group has built up its strongest presence outside Syria and Iraq. And as in Iraq and Syria, Nayed says foreign fighters are amongst those working for IS in Libya. “As they are being fought we are finding Algerians, Tunisians, Chechens, Malians so there are foreign forces fighting Libyans.” And he stresses that this is the reason why international cooperation is so important. “And at the same time you know when we ask for international help or regional people say ‘Oh why are you asking for foreigners to help you?’. Well, we have already a foreign invasion, full scale through ISIS and this invasion will succeed if we don’t do anything about it.”
Egypt has called on the United States and Europe to join an international military intervention in the chaotic North African state after extremists beheaded a group of Egyptian Christians. The country launched air strikes against IS in February after IS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians, mainly young men from impoverished families, who had been kidnapped by the group after traveling to Libya for work. A video posted online showed them being marched onto what is purported to be a Libyan beach before masked militants with knives carved off their heads. Libya’s political crisis has left the country with two parliaments and two governments, along with rival militaries and militias.