IS in Sirte advances west towards Misrata after double suicide bombing

Fierce clashes erupted between forces in west Libya and Islamic State fighters on Friday after IS swept new territory taking over Abu Grain checkpoint and claiming control of four other villages.

Eight were killed and 105 wounded from the double suicide attack which hit Abu Grain and Sadada checkpoints, according to Misrata hospital. Among the dead were at least two members of the west Libyan security forces loyal to Libya Dawn the armed coalition which swept Tripoli in 2014.

Clashes continued a day later as troops were recalled back from leave to repel IS’s incursion towards the key city of Misrata, one of Libya’s largest and the hometown of Dawn. IS claimed to have seized the villages of Houn, Sokena, Zalla, Al-Fugha and Waddan.

Thursday morning an IS suicide bomber attacked Abu Grain checkpoint which is manned by former members of the 166 brigade, a Libya Dawn affiliated group that once controlled Sirte before they were forced to retreat last June.

The area lies 120 km south of Misrata where the highway along Libya’s Mediterranean coast meets the main road south into the desert interior.

Later, as IS pushed further west towards Misrata, they launched a second attack at Sadada checkpoint. Soldiers, that were forced to retreat, captured the moment of the powerful blast on video, publishing the clip on line showing plums of smoke and towers of flames.

Both checkpoints have been hit multiple times this year but the militants, who number in their thousands, had never successfully taken new ground.

IS claimed responsibility for it naming the first suicide bomber as Khabat al-Tunisia and publishing a photo of the fighter. The name of the operation is Alsheikh Abou Ali Alanbari, they wrote.

The head of the Misrata military council, Colonel Ibrahim Bel-Rajab, said he had ordered all brigades under his command to head to Abu Grein without delay, Libya’s LANA news agency reported.

“Numerous armed vehicles of IS have been spotted in this area,” he said.

Misrata’s two main television channels broadcast appeals to fighters on leave to return to their barracks.

Misrata Military sources told Libya Channel the fresh push was part of concerted effort by IS to attack Dawn forces in Jufra, which lies some 360 km south of the jihadi stronghold.

“They want to cut the supply form Misrata to Jufra so they expand their territory further south,” said a military source.

“Hitting Abu Grain and Sadada does this.”

On Friday there were unconfirmed reports of a third attack on a checkpoint in Jufra -which was also the sight of clashes between Dawn affiliated groups and the Liyban army, under the orders of Colonel Khalifa Haftar, the day before.

Haftar has launched “Gardibya 2 operation” to recapture Sirte, sending several units via the south route to the jihadi held city and by the coastal road.
This is in defiance of the UN-backed unity government which is anchored in Tripoli and this week warned any armed group from moving on Sirte without its permission.

On Friday it announced the formation of a new military command to oversee the campaign against IS in a statement on its Facebook page on Friday. The six-member command will be headed by General Bashir Mohammed al-Qadi, it said.

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