Libya has become a litmus test for the potency of the international community and US leadership in the region.
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Libya will inflitrate Europe if the West fails to support Libyan forces with arms and ammunition, a top Libyan army officer has said.
General Khalifa Haftar, the army chief of Libya’s internationally recognised government, said ISIL had seized control of at least two cities along Libya’s long Mediterranean coastline and has a strong presence in several others, its first major expansion from its bases in Syria and Iraq.
In a sign of the group’s expanding reach, ISIL claimed responsibility on Thursday for an attack a day earlier on a museum in neighbouring Tunisia that killed 23 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Haftar told the Associated Press news agency in an interview that his forces need backing from the West against ISIL.
“We want weapons and ammunition only. We have the men. The army is increasing in number every day,” he said.
He warned that ISIL will “spread in even the European countries if [the West] does not offer real help to the Libyan people, especially the Libyan army.”
ISIL, he said, “will head with the illegal migrants to Europe, where corruption and destruction will spread just like Libya. But there it will be hard to confront them”.
Haftar’s comments came as Bernardino Leon, the UN envoy to Libya, was due to meet on Friday delegations from Tobruk and the Tripoli-based government in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
On Thursday, delegates from the Tripoli-based government had to delay their trip to Morocco after the only functioning commercial airport in the capital was attacked by warplanes from the UN-recognised government.
‘Thousands of fighters’
ISIL has been able to expand by taking advantage of the chaos in Libya, where rival governments are fighting for power.
The elected government, which is internationally recognised and which Haftar backs, was driven out of Tripoli, last year and has been confined to the small eastern city of Tobruk and other nearby towns. Another bloc of parties, backed by fighters, has set up its own government in the capital Tripoli.
The number of ISIL fighters in Libya has grown to an estimated 7,000 to 7,500, Haftar said, including fighters from African, Arab and Middle Eastern countries trained in Syria.
Libya’s elected government appealed to the UN Security Council last month to lift an arms embargo and facilitate its request for dozens of fighter jets, tanks and other weapons it says it needs to fight the armed group.