By Saber Ayyub and Ajnadin Mustafa.
Tripoli, 27 February 2016:
For the fifth day today, there were clashes in Sabratha as local militias and . . .[restrict]armed residents, with support from neighbouring towns, continued combing the area for fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS) hiding after last week’s air attack by the Americans.
Sources in the town say that since the action started on Tuesday, 47 militiamen and armed supporters had been killed, all from Sabratha. Another 101 had been wounded, 83 from Sabratha, 14 from Ajilat, two from Zintan and one each from Jmail and Sorman.
There are no figures of IS casualties. However, for the first time, there are also reports of women IS fighters, at least three of whom are said have been killed.
A usually reliable source in Sabratha had said this morning that largescale fighting in the area ended last night and that while there had also been some clashes involving IS fighters north of the neighbouring town of Ajilat, it too was over. What was happening in Sabratha today, he claimed, was no more than moping-up operations.
However, Sabratha local council said in a statement this afternoon, that the battle was continuing as locals moved to re-establish control over the area. Usually strongly loyal to the Tripoli regime, it also expressed astonishment at the Tripoli defence ministry for claiming that Sabratha was free of IS. It was not, it said, adding that it would take action against anyone sheltering IS fighters.
Ironically, the local council has spent the past few months emphatically denying there was any IS presence in the town.
As part of today’s moves to weed out the terrorists, it is claimed that local IS leader Abdullah Dabashi, reported as killed the day before yesterday, was found and arrested when the home of a local man suspected of links to IS was among those stormed. Dabashi is said to have been responsible for the kidnapping of the two Serbian diplomats killed in the US air strike. Also said to have been found in the same house was the wife of Noureddine Chouchane, the Tunisian IS commander accused of masterminding last year’s Bardo Museum and Sousse attacks in Tunisia. A large amount of money was also found with them.
It is still unclear what happened to Chouchane. He was one of the targets of the 19 February US raid and the Americans claimed he had been killed although sources in Sabratha subsequently denied this. Yesterday a body resembling him was found in the rubble of a destroyed building but there has been no confirmation that it is him.
Meanwhile today, in the terrorist searches, a solider was killed when another house was stormed. “There are still of plenty suspect houses but the fear of explosions makes the guys a bit weary in dealing with them,” a Sabratha activist told the Libya Herald this evening.
Yesterday in another search, seven men and three women, all said to be with IS, were killed when local vigilantes stormed a building in Masalamia district. All ten allegedly fired on the vigilantes, three of whom were also killed. Others were injured. Two other IS men and two women were arrested in the operation.
Once unconfirmed report yesterday spoke of an IS woman sniper also being killed.
Meanwhile today, Sabratha military council has denied that it ordered forces from neighbouring towns who had come to help fight IS to leave.
According to Sabratha media centre, the military council similarly said that operations had not yet finished and called all neighbouring towns to continue their support – the first time that pro-GNC and pro-HoR fighters have joined forces. It told residents to inform it of anything that could help in eradicating the terrorists.
The denial came after reports that the head of the military council, Tahir Gharabli and and one of its members, Ahmed Dabashi, had ordered the neighbouring forces to leave. Both were previously hitherto regarded as a hardline Islamists, in the latter case with links to Ansar Al-Sharia.
Meanwhile, although the official figure so far is 47 dead, neighbouring Zawia is reported saying that it lost 60 of its men in the fight against IS, seven of them beheaded by IS. The claim has not been verified.
In a linked development today, the mayor and councillors from nearby Rigdaleen visited Sabratha to present condolences to the families of those killed by IS in the fighting as well as inspect the situation on the ground. [/restrict]