Checkpoints appeared in Sabratha today allegedly manned by supporters of the so-called Islamic State (IS) although there are competing claims that those involved are members of Ansar al-Sharia.
The checkpoints and the presence of some 30 vehicles with black flags followed an incident last night in which two men were arrested in neighbouring Sorman. It is claimed that one of them is related to a member of IS in Sabratha.
“The police in Sorman were suspicious about two strangers renting a small house in the town and after storming it, they have found weapons in the place, including explosives,” Mohamed Al-Balili a local Sorman journalist told theLibya Herald. “One of the two is Tunisian and the other a Libyan who just returned back from Syria recently.”
The two were handed over by the Sorman police to the Security Directorate this morning. However, fearing a revenge attack from IS supporters, the Sorman police station was given added protection of sand wall around it this morning.
However, Sabratha’s mayor, Hussein Dawadi, has a somewhat different version of events. According to him, only one person was arrested who was suspected of being a member of IS. He had, moreover, been arrested in Sabratha, not Sorman. His family and friends then set up the checkpoints. As a result the mayor had met the man’s brother whom he said might be a member of IS, there had been negotiations and the man had been released.
Dawadi, himself an Islamist whose arrest at Tunis airport in October resulted in at least a hundred Tunisians being seized in Libya, admitted there might be some IS supporters in the town, but claimed they were not like those in Sirte and Derna. They were Libyan and peaceful, he said. There were, however, no foreigner fighters at all in Sabratha, he insisted, and none would be allowed.
A third version of the events has the two arrested men being members of Ansar Al-Sharia rather than IS, and their arrest in Sorman the result of rivalry between the militia in there and Islamists in Sabratha.
Meanwhile, residents in Sabratha say tensions rose this afternoon between an IS group in the town and its security directorate, itself headed headed by Islamist Taher Al-Ghrabli, after IS fighters fired shots against a woman’s perfume shop owned by Al-Ghrabli’s brother. The IS fighters were in a a small military convoy protesting over the arrest of the two men in Sorman.
To try and resolve the situation, Sabratha municipal council and its military council plus representatives from some “revolutionary militias” held an urgent meeting this afternoon. Among measures agreed was a register of foreigners in the town and a ban on any large-scale gatherings.
Allegations that IS has a presence in Sabratha in the form of at last one training camp have been rife for some months. The municipal authorities and other local official have consistently denied this, at least until now.