Senior Islamic State fighters are relocating to Libya, says official

ISIS LibyaSenior members of the Islamic State are moving from Syria and Iraq to Libya, according to a Libyan intelligence official who spoke to the BBC. Since 2014 and the outbreak of the Second Libyan Civil War, the North African country has been engulfed in a multipolar struggle for dominance between rival armed groups and alliances. Among them is Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of former al-Qaeda-linked militants, ethnic Berbers, members of the pro-Egypt Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the al-Shorooq Force, an Islamist militia from Libya’s northwestern coastal city of Misrata. Libya Dawn troops have been engaged in ground-combat against Islamic State forces, which currently control Libya’s north-central coastal region.

The area ruled by the Islamic State includes the cities of Bin Jawad and Sirte —the latter being the birthplace of Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi. Some believe that loyalists of Gaddafi’s regime in Sirte, including members of his extended family, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and are actively supporting the militant group. Meanwhile, the armed factions that surround the territory controlled by the Islamic State, which include the Tobruk-headquartered Libyan National Army, are at war with each other as much as with the Islamic State itself.

On Wednesday, Ismail Shukri, head of intelligence for Libya Dawn in Misrata, spoke on BBC television’s flagship current-affairs program Newsnight about the current status of Islamic State forces in northern Libya. He told the program that his informants in Islamic State-controlled territory were reporting “an influx of foreign fighters” from Iraq and Syria. The majority of the settlers had arrived “in recent months”, said Shukri, and were located in Sirte. They appeared to be senior Islamic State military and civilian officials, who had “long-term importance to the Islamic State”. When asked why these Islamic State members were pouring into Libya, Shukri said they viewed the North African country “as a safe haven” and were relocating there in order to escape the military offensive by international forces in Iraq and Syria. Shukri told the BBC that nearly three out of four foreign Islamic State members in Sirte were from Tunisia, with remaining numbers consisting of Egyptian, Algerian and Sudanese citizens. There were also several Syrians and members of Iraq’s Baathist armed forces during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said.

Rumors have circulated for several months that Libya Dawn forces are preparing a major ground offensive against the Islamic State. There are also reports that Western countries are engaged in negotiations with groups fighting the Islamic State in Libya, over the possibility of providing intelligence support and air cover for a ground assault. However, Shukri refused to speculate about future military campaigns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 February 2016 | Permalink

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