At least nine people were killed Saturday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group targeting forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar in southern Libya, officials said.
IS fighters, “backed by criminal groups and mercenaries”, launched a dawn assault on a military training camp in the southern city of Sebha, which is controlled by Haftar’s forces, the city’s mayor Hamed al-Khayali told AFP.
“The attack left nine dead … some of whom had their throats slit and others who were shot dead,” he said.
A spokesman for the Sebha Medical Centre confirmed it had received nine dead bodies.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement distributed through social media, saying it had targeted “Haftar’s heretical militia” and freed prisoners held on the base.
Sebha is controlled by Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, which opposes the UN-recognised Government of National Accord based in Tripoli.
A power struggle between the unity government and Haftar — who has over the last month launched an offensive against Tripoli and forces loyal to the GNA — has left the country’s vast desert south a lawless no-man’s land.
The rugged territory, which shares borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan, has become a haven for jihadists and other armed groups.
In a statement, the GNA said Haftar shouldered “direct responsibility for the reemergence of the Islamic State organisation; for (its) terrorist activities and its return to the scene… after the GNA had been successful… in destroying” the jihadist group.
“Ever since the offensive against Tripoli, we have warned that the only beneficiaries… are the terrorist groups and that what is happening will offer them a fertile ground to restart their activities”.
Meanwhile the UN’s mission in Libya, UNSMIL, said on Twitter it “strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Sebha, which was claimed by (IS) and resulted in a number of Libyan casualties.”
“Perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of terrorist activities must be brought to justice,” UNSMIL added.
Ahead of its assault on pro-GNA forces on the edge of Tripoli, the LNA in mid-January announced the start of an offensive intended to “purge the south of terrorists and criminal groups”, including rebels from Chad.