In the aftermath of a deadly attack by Islamic State militants on Misrata, local representatives called on the rival government in Tripoli to “clarify its stance on terrorism” and to equip the city’s municipal council with more powers to fight terrorism.
Sunday’s suicide attack — which killed five — targeted a checkpoint in the port city manned by forces loyal to Libya Dawn, an Islamist-leaning coalition that took over the capital last summer and set up a rival government. Most of the groups within Dawn are anchored in Misrata, yet recent statements suggest that key local actors are drifting away from Dawn’s leadership.
In its latest statement on Sunday, Misrata’s Municipal Council declared the General National Congress, the rival parliament in Tripoli, and its so-called National Salvation Government responsible for security failures. “We call upon them to take a clear stance,” the statement read, “without obfuscation with respect to their commitment in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and against the groups that call themselves Islamic State organisation”. The government should “equip the municipal council with (more) powers to take the necessary security measures inside the city,” the statement added.
Live on Libya Channel’s evening debate on Sunday, municipal council spokesman Osama Badi further emphasized the need for national unity, calling the fight against IS a “war for all Libyans” and calling on Libyans to support the security forces in the war against terrorism. Asked about what Misrata could do in practice, Badi however admitted that the municipal council did not effectively command any troops.
A Misratan force, Brigade 166, was the first Libya Dawn-affiliated armed group to take up weapons against IS in central Libya, resulting in a brutal retaliation campaign. Sunday’s attack was only the latest in a string of IS-claimed bombings that have shaken the city since mid-March. Brigade 166 repeatedly appealed to the GNC to send reinforcements but appears to have been abandoned on the battlefield. After suffering heavy losses last week, the brigade was forced to withdraw, leaving the central Libyan city of Sirte in the hands of the extremists and making Misrata ever more vulnerable to attacks.
Heavily involved in the Libya Dawn campaign from the beginning, Misrata has recently taken a step back, surprising critics with positive steps toward peace through a series of local agreements with rival towns and tribes, including its greatest foes, Zintan and Tawargha.
Among those calling for peace is Fathi Bashagha, a revolutionary figurehead in Misrata who was elected to the internationally-recognised House of Representatives but boycotts its Tobruk sessions,and who has been involved in the UN-backed national dialogue between the warring political camps. In reaction to Sunday’s bombing, Bashagha said in a Facebook post that IS was “against the revolution, against the state and against life” and that terrorism was “against Islam”. Accusing fellow Dawn supporters of hypocrisy he asked: “To you who claim to defend the revolution and Allah’s religion, you who encourage Misrata to fight for the unknown: what are you doing to help now that terrorism is killing Misrata?” “The unity of Libyans is the most powerful weapon against terrorism”, he added in another post on Monday.
Many in the Libya Dawn camp still downplay the threat posed by IS affiliates, calling them remnants of the Gaddafi regime trying to give Islam a bad name. In their eyes, General Khalifa Haftar, appointed head of the army by the internationally-recognized government forced to operate in the eastern city of Tobruk, is still the greatest enemy that needs to be defeated before addressing the problem with IS.