Up to 42 dead as Islamic State battles Libyan forces

Two governments, ex-rebels and Islamist groups battle on four years after Gadafy’s death

Libyan supporters and troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a retired general and former chief of staff under Muammar Gadafy, on an armoured personnel carrier during a demonstration calling on the international community to arm the Libyan army on August 14th, 2015 in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Photograph: Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

Libyan supporters and troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a retired general and former chief of staff under Muammar Gadafy, on an armoured personnel carrier during a demonstration calling on the international community to arm the Libyan army on August 14th, 2015 in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Photograph: Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

 

At least 42 people have been killed in clashes between the local incarnation of Islamic State, a rival Islamist group and forces loyal to the official government in two Libyan cities, residents and medics said on Friday.

The fighting typifies the chaos in the oil-producing country, where two governments, former rebels and Islamist groups are battling for control four years after the ousting of veteran ruler Muammar Gadafy.

In the main eastern city of Benghazi, Islamic State attacked forces loyal to the official government. They killed five soldiers and destroyed a tank and three military vehicles, residents and medics said.

Seven soldiers were also wounded in the attack in the central area near the commercial port, closed for more than a year because of the fighting. A warplane could be heard later as government forces brought in reinforcements.

In Sirte, a central city about 500km (300 miles) east of the capital, Tripoli, Islamic State jihadis fought with a rival Salafist Muslim group and armed residents who have been trying to expel them.

Islamic State fighters took over the city in February, expanding their presence in the North African country by exploiting a security vacuum, as they did in Iraq and Syria.

Fighting raged until early on Friday before dying down when Islamic State took back a district which the Salafists and armed residents had tried to seize, residents said.

Through the day the city was quiet, giving residents the chance to remove bodies strewn in the streets, among them women and children. About 37 people have been killed in the past two days, residents said.

“Families are leaving Sirte,” said a resident, asking, like others, not to be named.

He said Islamic State fighters were searching for people with weapons.

A similar battle occurred in the eastern city of Derna in June when Islamic State was expelled by rival Islamist fighters who teamed up with locals angered by the arrival of foreign militants and clerics.

Islamic State launched an offensive to retake Derna this week.

Libya has two governments fighting each other for power, while Islamic State and other armed groups carve out their own fiefdoms.

The UN brought the main warring factions together in Geneva this week but the diplomacy has been overtaken by fighting between groups not present at the negotiating table.

Reuters