Libya Channel with Reuters
Islamic State fighters have seized control of most of Sirte in central Libya, after taking over the last base close to the city held by forces loyal to Libya’s rival administration in Tripoli.
IS claimed victory over al-Jalit camp, some 20km south of the city center in Bouhadi suburb, after pushing back Libya Dawn’s Brigade 166 Wednesday night. The subsequent clashes killed at least one Dawn fighter and wounded dozens of others. IS also targeted Dawn checkpoints outside Sirte in two separate suicide bombings on Wednesday and Thursday.
Bewildered Sirte residents – caught in the crossfire – told Libya Channel said they while they in shock – IS fighters had largely “steered clear of the people” after Brigade 166 was pushed out of the strategic headquarters.
They added that some people in the city – which was once the stronghold and hometown of toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi – had previously tried to broker a deal between the global jihadi group and Brigade 166 to keep the fighting out of civilian neighbourhoods and the centre of town.
Sirte had largely been under the control of Libya Dawn – an Islamist-leaning coalition that took over Tripoli last summer.
Brigade 166 had been mandated by Dawn to defend the strategic city after IS directly threatened them mid-March.
IS first appeared in Libya last October when existing extremists groups in the eastern city of Derna pledged allegiance to IS Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Since then they have swept up territory in the east, west and south of the country. IS fighters in Sirte declared their existence in February.
On Thursday Reuters reported that Misrati checkpoints had been forced to move further from the city center after the battle.
“They are now shelling the power station so we’ve moved back the last checkpoint for civilians,” said Yuhami Ahmed, a commander of the Misrata troops based on the western outskirts near a plant that supplies the area with electricity.
The Misrata forces have surrounded Sirte and are diverting traffic on the coastal road to the desert hinterland. Anti-aircraft guns guard checkpoints.
By occupying Sirte over the past four months IS have claimed a major city in the center of the country, astride the coastal highway that links the east and west.