Britain is to provide military training to “Syrian moderate opposition forces”, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said.
The Islamic State terrorist group likely will launch an attack on Italy within weeks, not months, according to a senior Libyan government official.
Aref Ali Nayed, Libya’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said in an interview that one likely method of attack would be to use stolen Libyan airliners now believed to be in the hands of Islamists in Libya.
“The horrific video showing 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya contained a direct threat from ISIS to Rome,” said Mr. Nayed, using an acronym for the terrorist group. “The threat of ISIS to Italy could become a reality in a matter of weeks rather than months.”
The Islamic State could use two attack methods, the ambassador said. The first would be for Libya-based terrorists to infiltrate Italy by using one of the many boats carrying undocumented Libyans to Italy. Once in Italy, the terrorists could regroup and carry out an attack.
“Second, ISIS could weaponize a civilian airliner or small military aircraft in Libya, loading it with explosives and/or chemical weapons.” Mr. Nayed said. “Rome is one hour from the ISIS-controlled airport in Sirte.”
U.S. intelligence agencies warned in September that Islamist militias in Libya have taken control of nearly a dozen commercial jetliners that remain unaccounted for.
“Their attacks are increasing in both frequency and scope, and we must take their threat against Italy and Southern Europe very seriously,” the ambassador said.
Mr. Nayed, a senior adviser to Libya’s prime minister for national security, also said the terrorist group appears to be part of a continuum of ever-more radical Islamists ravaging the oil-rich North African country since the ouster of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
“Libya is in very real danger of becoming an ISIS garrison and an ATM for ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq,” he said in a December speech. “There is a good chance that Libya’s oil wealth was siphoned off by Islamists and provided oxygen for the growth of ISIS during the recent Islamist regime. It certainly has not been used to make our country a better place for Libyans.”
Two key Libyan cities appear to be in the Islamic State’s hands, including the coastal cities of Derna, long an outpost of Islamist terrorists, and Sirte.
Claiming it contravenes Sharia law, Islamic State (IS) has banned female doctors treating male patients and vice versa.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official from Mosul, Ghayas Surchi, explained the recent decree to BasNews.
“On Tuesday, IS declared a ban on doctors treating the opposite sex,” said Surchi.
The decision also applies to surgery, potentially putting lives at risk.
“IS believes that men and women seeing bodies of the opposite sex, even in a medical setting, is a violation of Sharia law,” he added.
Algeria and Italy share the same positions on the need to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya and to strengthen the fight against terrorism, said Wednesday in Rome Minister for Maghreb and African Affairs Abdelkader Messahel.
“Algeria and Italy share the same positions (as regards the crisis in Libya). They are both for the preservation of the territorial unity and sovereignty of Libya and cohesion of its people, as well as for the promotion of a political solution to the crisis,” Messahel explained to APS at the end of long discussions with the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni.
Messahel said that his discussions with the Italian ministers were an opportunity for the two countries to reiterate their full support to the efforts of the United Nations and the UN special envoy Bernardino Leon for a political solution to the crisis shaking this neighbouring country.
The two sides also reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the fight against terrorism, this transnational scourge that is threatening the security of all countries, he added.
“I am satisfied with this visit, which shows the great importance attached by Algeria and Italy to the resolution, the soonest possible, of the crisis in Libya and for the restoration of peace and security in the neighbouring country,” said Messahel.
He also underlined the importance of coordination between the neighbouring countries of Libya to “help this brotherly country to overcome the challenges it is facing,” he said, adding that these challenges are also threatening the security and stability of the whole region.
In this regard, Messahel announced the holding of the 6th session of Libya’s neighbouring countries in Ndjamena in the next few days.
Messahel arrived in Rome on Wednesday morning to meet with the Italian Foreign minister as part of the constant consultations between the two countries on issues of high interest.
A trilateral meeting over developments in Libya, which was due on Wednesday between the foreign ministers of Italy, Algeria and Egypt was rescheduled at “the nearest possible convenience,” the Italian foreign ministry announced.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the meeting was postponed as “result of a pressing engagement that has detained” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri.
Egypt’s state-run television cited Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman as saying that Shukri “apologised for his inability to travel to Rome due to urgent commitments that emerged in his schedule in the last minute, requiring him to stay in Cairo.”
Shukri said in remarks to journalists yesterday that talks will address efforts of the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya Bernardino León, who is pushing for a political solution and sponsoring dialogue among different Libyan parties.
Egypt supports the UN political solution in Libya and has been rallying the international community behind lifting an arms embargo, enforced on the Libyan government since 2011.
The Libya crisis has affected several Egyptians, who have been caught up in violence in Egypt’s restive neighbour.
On February 16, Egypt struck militant targets in Libya after the beheading of 21 men, 20 of whom were Egyptians at the hands of men believed to belong to a Libyan division of the Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Around 40,000 Egyptians have since fled Libya by crossing back into Egypt by land and by air flights carrying evacuees to Egypt from Tunisia and sometimes, Algeria.
Tunisia’s prime minister says one of the two gunmen who killed 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians at the Bardo museum was known to intelligence services, but no formal links to a particular terror group have been established.
In an interview with RTL radio Thursday, Habib Essi said Tunisia is working with other countries to learn more about the attackers, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui.
He said Laabidi had been flagged to intelligence, although not for “anything special.”
Meanwhile, two of the cruise ships with passengers among the victims left the port of Tunis. MSC Cruises said nine passengers from the Splendida were killed, 12 injured and six unaccounted-for.
Another ship, the Costa Fascinosa, said 13 passengers had not returned on board when the ship left port overnight.
“This is the time for assault,” chants a deep male voice on the radio. “All the unbelievers are hurting.”
Once the stronghold of Muammar Gaddafi, the coastal town of Sirte has now been transformed into a symbol of the insidious rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya.
Six weeks ago men wearing black masks took control. The streets became quiet, families moved out. Now, in the middle of Libya’s deep political divide, forces allied with the government in Tripoli have struck what they hope will be a major blow to the group.
Libya Dawn forces attacked Isis positions to the west of Sirte on Saturday. Fighting continued into Sunday morning. Yesterday, came the backlash, the first car bombing by Isis in Misrata along the coast to the north-west.
No one was injured, but Misratans fear this might only be the beginning of the retaliation.
Officials in Misrata said that Brigade 166, acting under the command of the Tripoli military commanders and composed of battalions from Misrata, had killed 25 Isis fighters in the Harah area, 13 miles to the west of Sirte over the weekend.
Ajaj al-Saqr, a general who had served under Gaddafi and was loyal to him until the end, was among those injured. He had been living in exile in Egypt and is believed to have returned to Sirte recently.
He was not alone. Many Misratans insist that the fighters now in Sirte are Gaddafi loyalists, recent returnees who have been hiding out in the desert or abroad. There are also an unknown number of foreign fighters among them, all under the flag of Isis.
For more than five weeks, the black flag has been hanging from the Ouagadougou conference centre where Gaddafi once hosted lavish international meetings.
It was also his stronghold where his most loyal forces held out as rebel forces closed in on them in October 2011 in what would be the final battle of the 2011 war.
The bitter fighting has left Sirte, Libya’s former capital, in ruins. Now, there are snipers once again positioned on the conference centre’s roof, and some of the same brigades that encircled Gaddafi have again encircled the city. This time, however, they are fighting a more confusing enemy.
Mohamed al-Thani lost his left leg fighting in Sirte in September 2011. This time, he says, he wouldn’t fight.
“The first war was about a lack of human rights and fighting against the Gaddafi dictatorship,” he said. “I would not fight because this time the enemy is unknown.”
Younis Mohamed Salabi, 28, added: “We’re not going to let the idea of Daesh [Isis] destroy the Arab Spring. After the liberation of Libya, they’re trying to bring back the old regime.”
Islamist groups in the eastern city of Derna declared allegiance to the Iraqi leader of Isis, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, in late 2014, replacing existing links to al-Qaeda.
The movement had, until then, largely been confined to Syria and Iraq. Libya’s political chaos, porous borders and abundant supply of weaponry make the North African country an appealing new base for Isis.
Around 500 Isis fighters are in Sirte. Their identities are unknown because of the black masks they wear. As well as the conference centre, they hold a hotel and the flour mill. A few hundred metres away from the mill, Misrata forces take their coffee in a roadside cafe.
Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city located to the east of Tripoli, is the power base of the Libya Dawn faction which seized power in Tripoli in August.
Abrahim Ben Rajab, head of the Misrata Military Council, said that they had hoped other cities would contribute more forces to Brigade 166, to avoid the risk that Misrata would be subjected to a retaliatory campaign by Isis.
“We expect retaliatory attacks on Misrata,” he said. “But the danger now is in Sirte, and if we don’t fight it, it will extend to the capital.”
It also said that several people had been taken hostage inside the Bardo Museum, which is next to parliament.
A member of parliament told AFP that parliamentary work had been suspended after shots were fired and deputies had gathered in the building’s hall.