Jihadists loyal to the Islamic State’s arm in Libya overran a checkpoint manned by the Libyan National Army (LNA) yesterday. LNA officials confirmed that at least 11 people were beheaded after the raid.
The so-called caliphate’s Amaq News Agency claimed that 21 members of General Khalifa Haftar’s “militia” were “killed and wounded in an attack by Islamic State fighters on a checkpoint” in the Jufra region.
LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told the press that Amaq’s claim was generally accurate. “The terrorist organization Daesh (Islamic State) attacked al-Fogha checkpoint in Jufra region this morning, killing nine soldiers and two civilians were slaughtered,” Mismari said, according to Reuters. Mismari added that the 11 people were beheaded.
The Jufra region is in the middle of Libya, south of the city of Sirte, which served as the Islamic State’s stronghold in North Africa until late last year. Local Libyan forces, backed by the US and its allies, pushed the jihadists out of Sirte over the course of several months.
The State Department reported in July that the Islamic State’s Libyan branch had “as many as 6,000 fighters in its ranks” as of early 2016, but “more than 1,700 ISIS terrorists were killed during the Sirte counterterrorism operations.”
This left the group with approximately 4,300 fighters, at least some of whom have stayed in Libya. It is not clear how many Islamic State loyalists are still in the country. But State confirmed that “many members of the terrorist organization fled to Libya’s western and southern deserts, abroad, or into neighboring urban centers.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, How many fighters does the Islamic State still have in Libya?]
The attack in the Jufra region yesterday confirms that the organization continues to operate well south of its former safe haven along the Mediterranean coast. Since the loss of Sirte, the jihadists have been reorganizing for future operations.
It is certainly possible, if not likely, that the jihadists recorded the beheadings for use in propaganda. In Feb. 2015, the Islamic State released a gruesome video documenting the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians along the coast. The video was used to announce the Islamic State’s growing presence in the country, frighten its local opponents and threaten the West. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, 21 Egyptian Christians executed in Islamic State video.]