Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has claimed a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint near Libya’s western Misrata city on Thursday after the jihadist militants took over former dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s home city of Sirte.
State news agency LANA quoted a military source as saying that the suicide car bomber blew himself up at the checkpoint on Thursday, killing two guards.
The attack, claimed by ISIS, targeted forces from the port city whose troops are allied with a self-declared government controlling the capital Tripoli and western Libya.
Misrata forces had fought with ISIS on Wednesday in Sirte. At least one person was killed and seven wounded.
ISIS forces have profited from Libya’s turmoil, four years after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, to gain a foothold in the north African country while two rival governments battle for power and Libya’s oil wealth.
Thursday’s attack “led to the killing and wounding of the enemies of God,” ISIS said in a message on Twitter. A Reuters reporter saw several damaged cars at the checkpoint on the road east of Misrata towards Sirte, a central city seized by ISIS in recent months.
Sirte falls to ISIS
The militants have effectively taken over Qaddafi’s home city of Sirte as they exploit a civil war between two rival governments to expand in North Africa.
“Every night they open fire on us,” said Abu Shebar, who with comrades on Sirte’s western outskirts holds the last position of troops belonging to one of the two warring Libyan governments, the General National Congress, which controls the capital Tripoli and most of the west of the country.
“They are only active at night,” he said, pointing to the militants' position in a house just down the road blocked by sandbags. He sleeps in a shed next to his firing positions where used tank shells litter the ground.
ISIS fighters became a major force last year in Derna, a jihadist bastion in Libya’s east, and quickly spread to the biggest eastern city Benghazi, where they have conducted suicide bombings on streets divided among armed factions.
By occupying Sirte over the past four months they have claimed a major city in the center of the country, astride the coastal highway that links the east and west.
They made their presence known to the world in February by kidnapping and beheading more than 20 Egyptian Christian oil workers on a beach and posting video on the Internet.
In Libya, the group deploys locally-recruited fighters, led by envoys sent from Syria and Iraq. Those include Libyans returned from fighting on Syrian and Iraqi frontlines, steeped in the group's ethos of extreme violence and permanent warfare between those it considers true Sunni Muslims and all others.
Their gains in Libya, just across the sea from Italy, are worrying European governments and north African neighbors. But so far Western countries, which are bombing Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq, have steered clear of that sort of intervention in Libya.
19 soldiers killed in Benghazi
Meanwhile, medical and army officials told the Associated Press a total of 19 soldiers have been killed over the past 24 hours in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the army is making a new push to retake the city from Islamic militants.
The offensive is primarily targeting the militant stronghold district of al-Laithi, amid reports that army chief Gen. Khalifa Hifter is making a new push to fully retake Benghazi after months of stalemate. Government fighter jets bombed multiple positions overnight and early Thursday morning, a military official said.
Six bodies arrived at the Benghazi Medical Center, hospital spokesman Khalifa Gwaider said. A second army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said 13 bodies arrived at other area hospitals.
(With Reuters and Associated Press)SHOW MORE