Libya official warns on spread of ISIS threat

2015-02-15 21:15

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Bayda - Officials of Libya's rival governments have been in touch over the growing threat of Islamic State militants, a top Libyan security official said, suggesting the fight against a common enemy might help to unite the country's warring factions.

Two separate governments are vying for control of Libya, four years after a Nato-backed civil war ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Western governments worry that Islamist militants are exploiting the discord.

Several groups in Libya have declared their allegiance to Islamic State, whose jihadists have taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria they claim as their own Islamic caliphate.

Fighters claiming ties to Islamic State in Libya said they carried out an attack on Tripoli's Corinthia Hotel last month, when gunmen shot nine people, including an American security adviser and a Frenchman.

"Islamic State is a big, big threat," said Omar al-Zanki, the interior minister in the official government. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni suspended Zanki for criticism of former general Khalifa Haftar, but Zanki said he continues to command troops pending the outcome of a legal complaint over his case.

Zanki blamed supporters of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for the storming of government buildings in the central city of Sirte this week. State media had made the incident public on Sunday without releasing details.

Sirte has steadily expanded as a militant base of operations in the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. Zanki estimated around 1 000 militants were based in the city.

Thinni's government in eastern Libya has accused Islamist politicians tied to the rival government in Tripoli of supporting militants, a charge they reject.

But Zanki said some officials in the Tripoli-based government had made contact, and were realising they could no longer ignore the Islamic State threat. Others in the Tripoli government have blamed former Gaddafi supporters for recent attacks such as the Corinthia assault.

"There are no doubts that we've had contacts with the western region and especially Misrata, about the big threat of Islamic State," Zanki said, referring to the Misrata city, a power base for the forces controlling Tripoli.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa

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