UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned of a "distinct possibility" of Islamic State (Isis) militants' activities spreading across Libya and other regions. He said he was concerned that the Islamist group could set up new cells in other parts of the North African country as they are being driven out of their stronghold of Sirte.
Ban highlighted the threats from foreign jihadist militants in Libya in a new report to the UN Security Council that was seen by the Associated Press. The number of IS fighters from the north of Africa — Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Mauritania — is said to be anywhere between 2,000 and 7,000, as estimated by UN member states.
It was reported by one member state that there were 3,000 to 4,000 IS militants in Sirte, which was the group's last hotbed along the northern African coast, which Ban said is "the most active war front" in Libya. Their number has now dwindled to 1,000. Those who have left Libya are reported to be regrouping to launch attacks. Among them are dozens of fighters from Tunisia who returned home recently. Ban said the pressure IS faced to move out of Sirte could force them to "relocate and regroup in smaller dispersed cells throughout Libya" and its neighbouring countries.
Ban said fighters from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa are being actively recruited by IS and al-Qaeda affiliate groups in Libya to strengthen their operations.
Rival government factions and parliaments in the west and eastern parts of the country are backed by different militias and tribes, who have remained divided since 2014. The killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after a political revolution created more chaos, making Libya a breeding ground for militants and local militias. They took over cities and launched attacks. The Islamists seized control of Sirte that was once Gaddafi's heartland.
Meanwhile, an Islamist militia shot down a helicopter near Libya's eastern city of Benghazi that killed two French Special Forces who were on board. The officials were deployed to help Libyan forces in training and identifying the militants' locations in a bid to fight them in the region since April.