Libya’s Islamic State affiliate is battling a rival Islamist group in the central city of Sirte, killing one of its senior clerics and besieging and shelling a residential area housing its supporters, officials and witnesses said Thursday.
The clashes have killed between 13 and 49 people, with officials giving different casualty counts. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The IS affiliate last week called on residents of a northern Sirte neighborhood working in the police, the judiciary and the financial sector to pledge allegiance to the group or face death, local journalist Ezzeldin Ahmed said.
In response, a group of ultraconservative Muslim clerics in the area refused to pledge allegiance to IS and urged residents to rise up against it. One of the clerics was found dead Monday, setting off the clashes, he said.
Libya has slid into chaos since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is now divided between an elected parliament and government in the east, and an Islamist militia-backed government based in Tripoli.
The Islamic State affiliate gained a foothold in Sirte in March, and has fought with rival militant groups and forces loyal to both governments.
The internationally recognized government, based in the far eastern town of Tobruk, and the Tripoli-based government both claim to have launched airstrikes against IS in Sirte.
But the head of the Tobruk-allied crisis committee in the city, Mohamed Hadia, pleaded for intervention.
“No one is doing anything to help the people of Sirte,” he said. “The roofs of houses are falling on (people’s) heads.”