Islamic State militants in Sirte executed at least 12 people and strung up their bodies on crosses, after violently crushing an uprising by residents and rival salafist groups in clashes which left dozens dead.
The slain rebels are believed to be local gunmen from Emrah, in the western city’s Third District, who had joined last week’s spontaneous revolt against the terror group, that seized control of the city in May. According to LANA news agency some of the men had been beheaded and a further 22 others, wounded during the recent fighting, were also executed.
Local residents told Libya Chanel, IS paraded the corpses around town as warning to other would-be rebels before setting fire to a medical centre, that was treating injured rebels.
“The dead were from the popular resistance brigades. IS put them in pick up trucks and drove the bodies around town in front of families, children, the elderly,” said one young man in the city, who could not be named for security reasons.
“The situation is horrific,” he added.
Clashes erupted on Wednesday, after IS militants killed prominent and popular Salafi cleric Sheikh Khalid Ben Rajah, who had refused to relinquish control of his mosque and was a member of the powerful Farjan tribe.
Local residents, fed up of months of repressive rule, joined the Sheikh’s followers in attempting to unseat the bloodthirsty group. It followed a similar rebellion by rival Islamist groups and locals in the eastern city of Derna, who successfully drove IS fighters out of their original stronghold in June.
The army also launched separate airstrikes on the outskirts of the town.
IS in Sirte responded by indiscriminately shelling the Third District – one of the remaining areas in the city not under full IS control and where the rebellion originated. At least 50 people, including women and children, were killed in the bloody onslaught, the majority from the Farjan tribe.
On Saturday Sirte locals told Libya Channel that IS had also dug up Sheikh Ben Rajah’s body and publicly burnt it in a further act of mindless violence.
The counteroffensive by IS, which is group’s bloodiest attack yet on residents of the towns they control, was widely condemned by both Libya’s rival administrations: Libya Dawn, which swept control of Tripoli last summer, and the elected-parliament and its cabinet in the eastern towns of Tobruk and Bayda.
On Friday internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni called IS’s actions “a genocide” and condemned the international community for its “double standards” in fighting IS in Syria and Iraq but leaving Libya to fight alone.
The government called for airstrikes on IS by Arab air forces, saying due to a UN-imposed four-year-long arms embargo they did not have the capacity to battle the group alone.
The Arab League echoed the premier’s call for urgent regional and international action to protect Libya against IS.
In a Friday statement Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he discussed the need for mobilization to help the beleaguered country with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dairi. An Arab League meeting was called for Tuesday to discuss the matter further.
The United Nations – that is hosting peace talks in Geneva and Morocco – also condemned IS’s actions and called on Libya’s warring factions to unite against the group’s “reign of terror”.
“It is high time that Libyans set aside their differences and come together to confront the scourge of [IS]”, it said in a Saturday statement.
But sources told Libya Channel that armed groups in the west loyal to both sides – who for months have been vying for control of territory around the capital – had already began laying plans to create a joint force to battle IS.
Fighters from Zintan and Warshefana on the pro-government side, and Misrata – that is the hometown of Dawn – were allegedly planning to work together to tackle the terror group.
IS seized control of the whole of Sirte in May, after battling Libya Dawn’s 166 Brigade for months. Shortly after that they negotiated a bloodless takeover of nearby Harawa town giving them a clear 200km stretch of territory along the coastline just across the Mediterranean from Italy.
In the last month, IS has sought to galvanize its grip on Sirte after losing Derna. Militants attempted to impose strict dress and behavior codes on residents and have publicly forced armed groups and citizens to pledge allegiance to IS emir Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.