Former government minister dies in Libya ISIS clashes

Sunday 22/05/2016
Rivalry could jeopardise anti-jihadist efforts

TRIPOLI - A Libyan former minister was killed in clashes between unity government forces and fighters of the Islamic State jihadist group in the Sirte area, the LANA news agency reported Sunday.
Mohammed Soualem, labour minister in Ali Zeidan's government from 2012 to 2014, "was directing military operations against ISIS" at the time, said the agency loyal to the North African country's new unity government.
Media reports said he was killed Saturday in fighting in the Abu Grein area, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Sirte, the jihadist group's main stronghold in Libya and hometown of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
"The clashes cost the life of Commander Mohammed Soualem and wounded five fighters," LANA reported.
"Air units in support of this operation succeeded in destroying dozens of vehicles" used by ISIS "and wounded several" jihadists, it said.
The former head of a combat brigade in Misrata during the revolt that led to Gaddafi's downfall and killing in 2011, Soualem was a member of Misrata's city council before becoming minister in 2012.
Hundreds of people attended his funeral on Sunday in a public square in Misrata. Several speakers paid tribute to Soualem, and also called for Libyan unity in the face of the jihadist threat.
Last Tuesday, forces loyal to the Government of National Accord said they had retaken the key town of Abu Grein from ISIS.
GNA troops and forces of the rival government based in the east of the country and loyal to General Khalifa Haftar are engaged in a race to be first to eject ISIS from Sirte, 400 kilometres east of Tripoli.
The rivalry between the two factions is a major cause of international concern which sees it as jeopardising anti-jihadist efforts.
The GNA, recognised by the international community and based in Tripoli for the past month and a half, is trying to assert its authority over a country plagued by divisions and the jihadist threat.