Armed groups from Misrata are battling to oust ISIL fighters from Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown.
The UN has given warning that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group is exploiting the political instability in Libya to expand its influence there.
Since 2013, the group’s Libyan affiliate experienced “several waves” of reinforcements, including Libyan returnees from the wars in Syria and Iraq and foreign volunteers, the report published on Tuesday said.
“While currently concentrated in its stronghold in Sirte, ISIL could seek local alliances to expand its territorial control, also entailing the risk of motivating additional foreign terrorist fighters to join the group in Libya,” the report says.
The report says the weakened security situation in the country had given ISIL’s commanders in Iraq and Syria their “best” opportunity to expand its control beyond those two states.
ISIL’s commander in the region, Abu al-Mughirah al-Qahtani, is quoted citing Libya’s strategic and geographic benefits.
“Libya has a great importance because it is in Africa and south of Europe … it is also a gate to the African desert stretching to a number of African countries,” Qahtani said.
The group has about 2,000 to 3,000 fighters in the country and controls large parts of two different cities, Derna and Sirte.
An estimated 800 of the group’s fighters in Libya are believed to have fought in Syria and Iraq before returning home. The group’s leadership in the country include Iraqi, Yemeni and Libyan members.
After initially taking a “soft” approach to win over locals, ISIL has implemented its strict interpretation of religion; prohibiting tobacco, imposing veils and forcing underage girls into marriage.
“However, viewed as an outsider group, ISIL is not embedded in local communities and has not succeeded in gaining the population’s support,” the report says.
The group is currently fighting on multiple fronts against the Tripoli and Tobruk-based governments, as well as factions affiliated with al-Qaeda.
ISIL’s presence in Libya came to international attention when it broadcast footage of its fighters murdering Christians from Egypt and East Africa.