Islamic State ‘province’ advances in and around Libyan city of Sirte

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Fighters loyal to the Islamic State continue to gain ground in the Libyan city of Sirte and its surrounding areas. Earlier today, one of the Islamic State’s official Libyan branches announced that its fighters have captured a power plant outside of the coastal city. The announcement, seen above, was posted online and disseminated via Twitter.

The Islamic State began targeting Sirte earlier this year, when the jihadists stormed a radio station, government buildings, a university, and a hospital. In May, the group’s fighters went on the offensive in the city again, seizing infrastructure points in the process. The jihadists took control of a military airbase and a civilian airport, as well as part of a massive Qaddafi-era water irrigation project.

Then, earlier this month, the Islamic State announced that its fighters had taken “complete control” of the village of Harawa, which is not far from Sirte. A photo set posted online (seen below) shows the Islamic State’s fighters congratulating one another after securing the village.

Sirte is not the only area of Libya under assault by the Islamic State’s fighters, who are located in several parts of the country. In February, the jihadists set up shop in the town of Nawfaliyah. The group continues to battle General Khalifa al Haftar’s forces in Benghazi, maintains a presence in Derna, and regularly attacks various targets in Misrata, Tripoli, and elsewhere.

The Islamic State has repeatedly targeted foreign embassies in Tripoli, but many of the diplomatic facilities have already been evacuated. However, in January, the group assaulted a hotel frequented by diplomats and Westerners. A former US Marine who was working as a security contractor was among the victims. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Former US Marine killed by Islamic State’s Tripoli ‘province’.]

These military assaults have been accompanied by the Islamic State’s usual barbarity, including mass killings of Christians and others.

The Long War Journal assesses that there are at least a few thousand jihadists in the Islamic State’s ranks inside Libya.

Since the height of the Iraq War, North Africa has housed a significant recruiting and facilitation pipeline. Many of the recruits sent to Iraq and Syria fought for the Islamic State and its predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, providing Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization with a resource pool to draw from. The group has grown quickly in North Africa since last year by redeploying fighters from the heart of the Middle East, poaching members of other groups, and continuing with its own recruitment drives.

As with the mother organization in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is taking on multiple enemies inside Libya, including other jihadist and Islamist organizations.

In particular, the Islamic State has targeted Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), a coalition of militias. The two sides have fought one another in Sirte and elsewhere for months. After a Tunisian suicide bomber blew himself up at a Fajr Libya checkpoint last week, the group issued a threatening statement. “The apostates of Fajr Libya…must know that a war is coming to cleanse the land of their filth unless they repent and go back to their true religion,” Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted the Islamic State as saying.

The Islamic State’s Libyan Twitter feeds regularly advertise attacks on Fajr Libya forces. And the 8th edition of the Islamic State’s English-language Dabiq magazine includes an article that is harshly critical of the Islamist coalition. The Islamic State blasted Abdelhakim Belhadj and other former members of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) for participating in one of Libya’s two rival governments.

“As the battle in Libya continues to intensify, the Islamic State enjoys greater consolidation,” the authors of Dabiq warned.

While the Islamic State has undoubtedly grown rapidly in Libya, its presence has been exaggerated in some ways. Last year, multiple press outlets erroneously reported that Baghdadi’s loyalists run the city of Derna. That isn’t true. The Islamic State has a significant contingent in Derna, and controls part of the city, but other jihadists remain entrenched.

In particular, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), which was founded by LIFG veterans, continues to operate in Derna. The Islamic State and the ASMB have clashed on multiple occasions, with the ASMB issuing a lengthy warning to its jihadist rivals in May. The ASMB has even appealed to Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a major pro-al Qaeda ideologue, for advice on how to confront the Islamic State.

Ansar al Sharia, which is part of al Qaeda’s international network, continues to fight on as well. The Islamic State has cooperated with Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi on occasion, and individual member have defected. But so far Ansar al Sharia has resisted calls to join Baghdadi’s legion of followers.

The Islamic State’s fighters in Harawa:

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Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • Will Fenwick says:

    The expansion of the Islamic State seems similar in many ways to the expansion of the Mongol Empire, attack weak enemies on all fronts and fuel the expansion with captured war booty. I imagine once the war booty runs dry, and the weak enemies are gone the Islamic States will rapidly decline just as the mongols did.

  • James says:

    If I were with Vatican security or NATO and InterPol I would be greatly concerned. Nearby coastal enclaves are directly across the Mediterranean Sea from the Vatican with only a few hundred kilometers to reach the Vatican. I don’t know if they have acquired missiles yet to reach that distance.

    This would fit with the jihadist idealogy of waging war against the ‘Crusaders’ since Rome and the Vatican (what they call ‘the Church of Rome) are seen by them to be like the capital of Christianity and ancient Rome and western civilization. If they’ve attacked the WTC as well as the Taj Majal, who is to say won’t attack the Vatican?

    We need to be greatly concerned about this and to make some contingency plans.

  • irebukeu says:

    Welcome to Libya 2015. At least Obama was leading from behind on this one. He does not bear the full weight of responsibility for this disaster.

    As I recall from the Iraq war, Benghazi, Sirte and Derna were the hottest spots for suicide bomber recruits for AQI. Libya itself boasted more recruits per capita than any other nation on earth by more than a 2-1 margin.
    The question I have is- WHY?

    What makes this region so active for jihadis? suicide bombers? Some 4 of 5 libyans who came to AQI signed on to martyrdom missions while only about half of other recruits were willing to do so. This was the case during the time of KIAdaffy.

    Does anyone have a clue what makes this region so hardcore?

    Knowing this information before the disastrous Obama intervention in Libya, why did we ever intervene to begin with? What outcome did we expect? My political party, the Republican party, chastised the president for not doing more, not doing it faster, so its not as if one party understood clearly and the other did not. Both parties love intervention. Either party, if we are not careful, will blunder us into another 3 trillion dollar fiasco.

    • James says:

      irebukeu, with all due respects to your comments, you state, “At least Obama was leading from behind on this one.” You see irebukeu, that’s the whole problem. Heck, he isn’t just “leading from behind on this one”, he’s “leading from behind” on everything. I just wish that someone could convince him, we’re supposed to be driving the bus, and not sitting in back of the bus.

      Concerning ‘Kiadaffy’, might it be that during the whole time of OIF he was deliberately dumping off his jihadist nut cases onto Iraq? That way you see, his problem became our problem. Notice that the same thing is going on now with pukin’s rejects (i.e., the jihadists from Chechnya).

      Concerning “another 3 trillion dollar fiasco”, our biggest concern should be that we don’t allow the war-mongers that got US into that first “3 trillion dollar fiasco” to get US into a worse fiasco with Iran.

  • mike merlo says:

    great news! Am looking forward to the next episode of the ‘Messiah Of Change’ “leading with his behind.”

  • Adrian says:

    “Does anyone have a clue what makes this region so hardcore?”

    Islam and Western halfway priorities military campaigns in the region.

    • wakeupandsmellthecoffee says:

      Why do so many Jihadist come from Derna & Benghazi?
      0. Senussi brotherhood establishes a system of lodges throughout Libya and North Africa. The movement is conservative but tolerant (This predates Qutb and others). Senussi tolerate the Turks.
      1. Senussi brotherhood decimated by Italy. Google second Italian Senussi War.
      2. Senussi Monarchy installed then overthrown by Qadaffi.
      3. Qaddafi further represses any strains of “conservative Islam”. Qadaffi creates his own version of Sharia Law even changing the Islamic calendar to suit his “strange” beliefs.
      4. LIFG forms (early 80s) during this period but disagrees with AQ killing so many Americans on 911.
      5. Intervention without understanding the operational envionment in Libya.
      6. AQ and former LIFG dudes attack the Benghazi outpost kicking the Americans out of Libya (just like they did to the Italians & Qaddafi) .

  • RYP says:

    I was out there a couple of weeks ago and on the ship (Anwar Afrikiya) that was hit by the missile. The power plant can’t be fueled now so its of little use to either side and if Daesh cuts off power to Misrata Battalion 166 can easily surround the plant. Libya is a big place. Daesh and their Tunisians and cobbled together groups are leap frogging east and west with small units to control the oil export ports. But this is not Iraq, the Italian Navy is just off shore. let’s see if they can hold the ground in real life that they win on the internet.

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