Libya strongman announces offensive to take Derna from 'terrorists'

2018-05-08 17:30
Retired Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)

Retired Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)

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Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar announced a military offensive on Monday to take from "terrorists" the city of Derna, the only part of eastern Libya outside his forces' control.

"The zero hour has struck for the liberation of Derna," said Haftar, declaring his troops had already started to crush the "bastions of terrorists" in the city.

Dressed in uniform, he was speaking from a military parade in the city of Benghazi in which thousands of soldiers from his self-styled army demonstrated their might.

Marshal Haftar celebrated the fourth anniversary since launching his "anti-terrorist" operation, which saw jihadists driven out of Benghazi - the home of Libya's 2011 revolution.

His announcement comes two weeks after he returned to Benghazi following a long stay abroad, during which he was hospitalised in Paris.

The strongman of eastern Libya said he had instructed his troops to spare the 150 000 residents of Derna, who have been under the control of the pro-Al-Qaeda Mujahedeen Shura Council.

The coalition of Islamist militias was formed to drive the Islamic State group from the city in 2015, after ISIS's takeover of Derna the previous year.

It also fights Haftar's forces, which have besieged the city for months.

Derna was known for being a bastion for jihadists even before the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

The city is the only part of eastern Libya to remain out of the control of Haftar's Libyan National Army, which has the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

While Haftar rules over eastern Libya, the rival Government of National Accord sits in the capital Tripoli and has the backing of the broader international community.

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Read more on:    al qaeda  |  isis  |  libya  |  north africa

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