ISIS struggles to expand zone of influence in Libya
BENGHAZI (Libya) - The Islamic State group is pushing eastward from its Libyan stronghold toward an oil hub but the government is trying to prevent this with air strikes, a senior officer said Tuesday.
In Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the situation in the North African country will be "the big issue in the coming months", noting how "terrorism constantly mutates".
ISIS, which already controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, has exploited the chaos that spread across Libya after veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 uprising.
The jihadists control the oil hub of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli and have been battling both government forces and Islamists in second city Benghazi, a further 550 kilometres to the east.
They are now trying to expand their zone of influence to Ajdabiya, which lies between Sirte and Benghazi and is in the heart of one of the North African country's major oil-producing regions.
The senior officer said warplanes Tuesday struck a "house in an industrial area south of Ajdabiya where jihadists were meeting".
The attack was part of a campaign aimed at preventing them from capturing the city, which is held by militias loyal to the recognised government.
Tuesday's strike was preceded by others last week, the officer said.
Last month, Foreign Minister Mohammed Dayri warned that Ajdabiya was at risk of becoming a "new fief" of ISIS, which has reportedly murdered 37 people, mostly military personnel, there in recent weeks.
ISIS, which has claimed several deadly attacks in Libya, as well as the murder of hostages, is also trying to retake the city of Derna, in the country's far east, have having been driven out by rival forces.
In New York, UN experts agreed in a report issued on Tuesday that ISIS is struggling to expand its foothold in Libya with no more than 2,000 to 3,000 fighters in the North African country.
But the UN report, which was put together by a sanctions monitoring team, cited several weaknesses in its operations in what has been widely viewed as an ISIS rear base.
"ISIL is only one player among multiple warring factions in Libya and faces strong resistance from the population as well as difficulties in building and maintaining local alliances," it said, using another acronym for ISIS.
Despite attacks on oil installations in Libya, the extremist group lacks the capacity to seize, hold and manage oil fields or refineries in the country, the report said.
"ISIL operations in Libya do not appear nearly as lucrative as its operations" in Syria and Iraq, it added.
The Islamic State first appeared in Libya in 2014 when a group of Libyan IS fighters returned from Syria and reorganised in the port city of Derna, declaring eastern Libya to be a province of the caliphate.
A separate group gained control of Sirte in February 2015 but several months later, in June, ISIS was pushed out of Derna during fighting with other Islamist factions.