At least one person was killed when car bomb ripped through a brigade headquarters in Misrata on Sunday, in what is thought to be a revenge attack by Islamic State militants.
The explosion hit the outside of Mother of all Battles Brigade (Khatibat Um al-Maarek) in the western city, which is home to Libya Dawn, a coalition of forces who created the country’s rival government now anchored in Tripoli.
The deadly bomb blast killed one of the brigade’s members identified as Ali Shalibta.
Katibat Um al-Maarek’s leader Mohamed al-Hisan is also a senior commander of Brigade 166, the main armed group fighting IS’s western branch “Wilayat Tarablus” (Tripolitania Province) in the central city of Sirte.
Before Sunday’s terror attack, Al-Hisan had publicly threatened IS, warning that his brigade would confiscate its weapons and dislodge its fighters from public buildings in the central Libyan city. Sunday’s blast is thought to be a direct response to his threat.
The blood-thirsty group first announced its presence in Sirte in February and later expanded to surrounding areas. The group now holds key locations in the city, including the Ibn Sina hospital and the Ouagadougou conference hall, painting a black flag on its facade.
Confrontations between IS and Libya Dawn began when IS militants set up a checkpoint on the coastal highway in eastern Sirte and attacked a Misratan unit that arrived to investigate.
Brigade 166, which was mandated by Libya Dawn’s parliament the General National Congress to secure Sirte, launched a surprise offensive against the IS-Group on 14 March.
Since then, there has been intensive fighting in the outskirts of Sirte and in the area of Nofliya, east of Sirte. Libya Dawn has launched airstrikes on their positions and Brigade 166 announced that it has killed and captured a number of IS militants.
Libya Dawn initially denied the presence of IS in Libya but were forced to confront the group when IS spoke out against the Tripoli administration and threatened to overrun Libya Dawn positions in the west.
In a recent statement, IS said it opposed anyone who works for the state and supports democracy, and embraces those who repent, regardless of their previous allegiances.
But the outbreak of open warfare on 14 March was sudden.
Only days before, tribal elders from Sirte and Misrata had been trying to negotiate IS’s withdrawal. Brigade 166 had been positioned outside Sirte for weeks, guarding roads into the city but refraining from any attacks on the militants. Talking to a New York Times reporter last week, Misratan fighters then justified their non-involvement saying they did not want to make residents of Sirte suffer.
Among the factors that could have triggered the change of course are statements from Sirte’s tribal leadership distancing itself from the militants and last week’s attack on a police station in Tripoli, which was claimed by IS – Tripolitania Province. It has also been suggested that the Algiers conference on 10 March may have helped create consensus on opposing the establishment of an Islamic State.