Top Islamic State (Isis) commanders are taking refuge in Libya as the terrorist organisation comes under increasing pressure from international air strikes in Iraq and Syria. A senior Libyan intelligence official has said that the IS (Daesh) members are moving to the country – which is beset by chaos – as they see it as a safe haven.
Ismail Shukri, the head of intelligence in the northern city of Misrata told BBC Newsnight: "Some of their members, especially those with long-term importance to IS, are taking refuge here. They view Libya as a safe haven."
The official added that the city of Sirte – which is situated on Libya's Mediterranean coast facing Europe – has seen an influx of foreign fighters. IS announced its presence in Sirte in February last year, becoming the first city to be governed by the militant Islamist group outside of Iraq and Syria.
"The majority [of IS fighters in Sirte] are foreigners, around 70%. Most of them are Tunisians, followed by Egyptians, Sudanese and a few Algerians," Shukri said. "Add to that the Iraqis and the Syrians. Most of the Iraqis come from Saddam Hussein's disbanded army."
On 2 February, John Kerry warned that although IS is being degraded by international forces in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, it has been largely untouched in Libya. This is a significant risk, given the nation's oil wealth, the US secretary of state added.
"That country has resources," said Kerry. "The last thing in the world you want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue".
IS seized the opportunity to establish itself in the politically fragile country as two opposing factions battle for supremacy. UN-led efforts to create a unity government have stumbled after reports of in-fighting and foreign countries are unwilling to intervene given the operations in Syria and Iraq.
Kerry ruled out the prospect of US ground troops being deployed in the oil-rich nation, while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed rumours that Paris could step in as "totally inexact".
Kerry said: "We are still not at the victory that we want to achieve, and will achieve, in either Syria or Iraq and we have seen Daesh playing a game of metastasizing out to other countries, particularly Libya."