ISIS growing in Libya, warns Libyan official

A member of the Libyan pro-government forces in the streets of Benghazi, Jan 21, 2015. ISIS militants are gaining ground in Libya and a new international approach is needed to address the growing threat, a senior Libyan official said Thursday. -
A member of the Libyan pro-government forces in the streets of Benghazi, Jan 21, 2015. ISIS militants are gaining ground in Libya and a new international approach is needed to address the growing threat, a senior Libyan official said Thursday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is gaining ground in Libya and a new international approach is needed to address the growing threat, a senior Libyan official said Thursday.

Aref Ali Nayed, Libya's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and an adviser to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, was in Washington and New York this week to discuss the new challenges on Libya's security front.

"ISIS is growing in Libya, exponentially. ISIS is committing atrocities every day," Nayed said in an interview with AFP.

"It's not possible to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria without also addressing the Libyan component."

The United Nations has blacklisted one of Libya's jihadist groups, Ansar al-Sharia, for its ties to ISIS, but Nayed said the militias are adept at "rebranding" to maintain and expand their links with ISIS.

Nayed estimates that ISIS is active in seven Libyan cities and has carried out attacks in a dozen areas.

An attack on the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli last week was claimed by ISIS while an assault on an oil field this week may have also been carried out by an ISIS-linked group.

Nayed raised concerns about an influx of foreign fighters into Libya - from Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria and from Chechnya - whom he said were recruited by ISIS.

He warned that Libya could be used as a base for attacks in Europe - "only an hour away" by plane.

"We see a distinct absence of strategy to address ISIS globally," said Nayed.

"It is the most existential threat to my country."

Libya has been wracked by conflict for the past four years, with rival governments and powerful militias battling for control of key cities and the country's oil riches.

Libya's internationally recognised government is based in the far east of the country, near the Egyptian border, while the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya militia alliance took control of Tripoli last summer.