Mustafa Fetouri writes: While the US-led coalition has been busy attacking Islamic State (IS) strongholds in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, the faraway coastal city of Sirte, Libya, has been seized by the extremist group. Only an hour’s flight from Europe’s southern shores, Sirte fell without a shot of resistance. What began as a small group of locals pledging allegiance to IS has evolved into a sizeable force that has extended its control nearly 40 miles west of Sirte and nearly twice that to the east, threatening the city of Ajdabiya and even Benghazi.
Omar, a civil servant who requested the use of a pseudonym, has lived all of his 30 years in Sirte. He told Al-Monitor by phone, “IS now has full control of the city and all roads leading to Sirte in all directions.” IS has imposed laws banning tobacco sales and smoking and ordering women to cover their hair. “Actually, my own brother was jailed for a couple of days because they caught him smoking in the street,” Omar said. Like other residents, he is extremely worried and is already planning to leave if his mother agrees to go with him.
Sirte is strategically situated at the crossroads connecting Libya’s three regions: Fezzan in the south, Cyrenaica to the east and Tripolitania to the west. In addition, it is close to the country’s main oil terminals at Brega and Ras Lanuf as well as Sidra. Ras Lanuf could well be the next safe haven for IS’ top leaders. On Dec. 9, England’s Daily Mail cited the Iranian news agency, FARS, as reporting that an injured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had already arrived in Sirte, having fled his headquarters in Mosul with Turkish assistance. [Continue reading…]