The Mediterranean port city of Sirte, just a few hundred miles from Europe’s coastline, is now the de facto base of the jihadist group’s Libyan wing.
Terror experts now fear the Islamic State in Libya – or ISL – is strengthening its hold on the region, and Sirte could soon rival Raqqa in Syria or Mosul in Iraq as a headquarters for the barbaric organisation.
In June, ISL militants took Sirte’s power plant, giving them complete control of the city.
It triggered the looting of the homes of local politicians and the grudging admittance from senior Libyan officials that the city was no longer under government control.
Since early summer the ISIS-loyal extremists have now ramped up their “state-building” efforts as they establish a full-blown city state in Sirte.
In acts that bear a chilling resemblance to the establishment of their declared ‘caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq, ISIS-inspired fighters have plastered the group’s black flag across the city and have erected billboards promoting their hate-filled messages.
The group took control of the city’s TV and radio station, hospital and university and ISL are now using the city’s former internal security building as its command centre.
ISL is also engaged in a propaganda war to promote life in the Sirte ‘caliphate’ as peaceful and prosperous.
Aaron Zelin, a research fellow on the jihadist movement from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the group had “shown off the city’s landscapes, port, bustling markets, and fully stocked grocery stores” in a bid to appeal to new recruits.
Sirte is now regarded as the centre of ISL – and of ISIS in north Africa.
Mr Zelin added: “ISL is now in the state-building stage – it aims to show residents that life is continuing and that its presence has brought normalcy and stability.”
ISIS is likely to become a “far more formidable force” following its gains in north Africa, according to the Washington-based security analyst, who warned bloodthirsty militants were close to capturing a key oil field in lawless Libya….
ISL originated in the city of Darnah in April 2014, but the group lost control of the area soon after and re-established itself in Sirte, hundreds of miles to the west and much closer to Tripoli.
After capturing nearby al-Nawfaliyah in February, it imposed its fanatical interpretation of Islam on residents in coastal towns across the region.
The group has swept to power in Sirte with relative ease, having allied with the local wing of jihadist organisation Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) to create an extremist supergroup that has faced little opposition.
ISL fighters in Libya even convinced militants from the lower-profile ASL to pledge allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi late last year….
In July, the French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described Libya as the perfect launch pad for ISIS attacks on Europe….
The militant group launched an offensive this week to retake the city of Darnah after a rival Islamist group had expelled it and in separate violence, ISL crushed a rival Islamist group near Sirte on Thursday, with 30 people reportedly killed….
Hani Sabra, Middle East and North Africa head of the New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said “North Africa as a region is unstable across the board – Libya, Tunisia, Egypt”.
Thanks to Barack Obama.
For now, at least, ISIS in Libya is only growing in strength.
Its new capital Sirte serves as proof that the terror regime is capable of establishing a so-called ‘caliphate’ in north Africa to rival its existing strongholds in the Middle East.