Chaos in Libya paves way for ISIS expansion

McClatchy reports: Benefiting from Libya’s political chaos, Islamic State militants are consolidating their base in the city of Sirte and grabbing new territory, pushing back fighters from Misrata.

Libya’s two dueling governments, one based in Tripoli and the other based in Beida and Tobruk in the country’s east, are running dangerously low of cash as they back armed groups against each other, allowing the Islamic State to exploit the rift to grab territory.

The Tripoli-based government, known as Libya Dawn, and its rival, the Dignity coalition based in the east, have yet to come together to target the Islamic State’s growth, even as some commanders for Misrata’s militia, long considered the country’s most adept and a mainstay of Libya Dawn, worry that their city has become an Islamic State target.

“Daash are the biggest enemy,” said one Misratan intelligence official, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of his work.

Still, many in the Tripoli-based government view defeating Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is aligned with the Dignity coalition, as a higher priority.

The Islamic State found fertile ground for development among Sirte’s disaffected, who were on the losing end of the 2011 war that toppled hometown boy Moammar Gadhafi and found their once-favored city devastated by the fighting and the NATO aerial campaign, according to one religious sheikh who fled his house on the outskirts of Sirte after Islamic State devotees moved into the house next door three months ago.

Some unhappy Gadhafi supporters at first had gravitated to Ansar al Shariah, the Islamist militia tied to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

Then about six months ago, foreigners began arriving in Sirte, the sheikh said. [Continue reading…]

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