Powerful Libyan militia alliance in rare clash with IS



TRIPOLI, LIBYA- Rare clashes between fighters from the Islamic State group and the Fajr Libya militia coalition erupted Saturday in the central city of Sirte, security and militia officials said.
It was the first report of fighting between the two groups since February, when Fajr Libya said it had sent reinforcements to Sirte to restore security there.



That move came following reports that IS-affiliated jihadists had seized government buildings, the local university and a state radio station in the hometown of deposed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
A local security official said the fighting broke out at midday in the eastern part of Sirte where the jihadists have positions, but he was unable to say what started it.
He later said the clashes "stopped at night", but gave no further details.
General Mohammed al-Ajtal, a commander with Fajr Libya, spoke of "fierce fighting" and told AFP one of his men had been killed.
At a press conference in Tripoli, the head of the self-declared government there, Omar al-Hassi, said of IS that "we won't allow this cancer to spread".
Without elaborating, he said IS in Libya is working with figures of the former regime.
Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli, has been a bastion of Islamist extremism since the 2011 revolt that toppled and killed Kadhafi.
Libya has been plagued by chaos since then, with heavily armed militias battling for control of its cities and oil wealth and rival governments and parliaments vying for power.
Fajr Libya, which includes Islamist militia, last summer overran Tripoli, where the General National Congress elected after Kadhafi's downfall had refused to disband following new polls in June that produced a new parliament.
It installed its own government in competition with the internationally recognised one allied with the new parliament, and emerged as a key player.
While it has regularly denounced "terrorism", Fajr Libya maintains links with the radical Ansar al-Sharia, which is present in Sirte but does not recognise IS's presence in Libya.
Ansar al-Sharia has been classified as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.
IS has expanded its influence from Syria and Iraq where it has set up a "caliphate" and gained a foothold in Libya, where it has claimed several bombings.
Last month a Libyan branch of IS claimed the beheading of 21 Christians, mostly Egyptians, prompting Cairo to launch retaliatory air strikes on jihadist targets in the North African country.
Nufliyeh, a town 120 kilometres east of Sirte, is considered to be the IS stronghold in Libya along with Derna in its far east and which was hit by the Egyptian air strikes in February.
In other developments, air forces loyal to the elected government carried out strikes on Fajr Libya warehouses and positions in the port of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, an official said.
That came after Fajr Libya planes targeted the airport in Zintan, southwest of the capital, whose powerful militia is allied with the government.
There were no reports of casualties.
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Sunday, March 15th 2015
AFP
           


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