The internationally recognized Libyan government has asked its Arab counterparts to carry out airstrikes against ISIS in the coastal city of Sirte, a cabinet statement said on Saturday. Over the past few days, ISIS has crushed a revolt by a Salafi group and armed residents trying to break its grip on the city. Dozens of people have been killed, according to residents. The fighting is typical of the chaos in Libya, where two rival governments and parliaments, as well as an assortment of tribes and armed groups, are fighting for control of towns and regions, four years after the ousting of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi . “Libya’s temporary government urges (…) the Arab brother states (…) to carry out airstrikes against the positions of the terrorist group ISIS in Sirte,” a cabinet statement said.
ISIS militants beheaded 12 people and hung them from crosses during a battle for the coastal city of Sirte, the national LANA news agency reported on Saturday. LANA said the 12 beheaded were local gunmen who were fighting ISIS. The agency also reported that ISIS militants executed 22 other Sirte residents who took up arms against the group as they lay injured in a hospital in the city. He said the activists also set the hospital on fire.
Libyan Ambassador to France Chibani Abuhamoud told AFP on Friday that the fighting in Sirte had left between 150 and 200 dead. “A real massacre is taking place and we call on the international community to intervene,” said the diplomat. The ambassador responds to the internationally recognized Libyan government, which has taken refuge in the east of the country and is in a power struggle with a rival administration based in Tripoli. The Libyan ambassador said fighting erupted after ISIS murdered an influential imam from the powerful Al-Farjan tribe earlier this week. Activists have since “slaughtered people, even killing people in their homes,” Abuhamoud accused.
The official government has been based in eastern Libya since it lost control of the capital Tripoli a year ago to a rival group, which set up its own administration. Neither government has control of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. Both governments have carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Sirte in recent days, but their capabilities are severely limited, relying on obsolete Gaddafi-era warplanes and helicopters and lacking precision weapons . The reaction of the Arab states was not clear. A Saudi-led Arab coalition launched airstrikes in Yemen in late March in an attempt to prevent the Iranian-allied Houthi movement from spreading across the country from the north.
Libya has suffered from a chronic lack of security with the emergence of various actors. The powerlessness of the central government has led many to take up arms against the government. State security forces have also failed to protect the government, leaving the country unprotected and exposed to fierce clashes between rival militias trying to seize authority over the government and the country. Peace and political stability seem far away as no rival militia has been strong enough to end the ongoing war. The central government, in a state of continued turmoil, has long been at the mercy of militias hoping to integrate and build a national army against the interim government. After the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, the army disintegrated and the central government gradually lost its power without having much effect on the ongoing violent clashes.