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Islamic State militants attack near key oilfield (updated)

Suspected Islamic State militants in east Libya attacked a water and power plant 80km from Sarir,  the country’s largest oil field, prompting a crisis meeting on security in the oil crescent region.

Heavily-armed assailants Monday night broke through the main gate of the facility, which is part of the Man-Made River Project, a country-wide irrigation and water supply network.

The assailants raided the building, forced employees outside, burned down three diesel banks and stole two vehicles before they withdrew early on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the company that manages the plant, Tawfiq Shwaihdi, said attackers had used rockets, damaging offices and vehicles, but that the system had not been affected.

Security forces at the site also foiled an attempted suicide car bombing by killing the driver, before engaging the attackers in clashes, an oil facilities guard said.

It was later reported that the car did blow up, however, damaging the adjacent al-Shaala electricity station, and photos circulating on the internet showed buildings on fire. The National Oil Corporation’s Benghazi-based management issued a statement Tuesday condemning the “terrorist act committed by Daesh”.

There was no damage to Sarir oil field but fearing further attacks, a crisis committee was convened on Tuesday said Omran al-Zwai, a spokesman for Arabian Gulf Oil Co, which runs production from the field. More that half of Libya’s dwindling oil production normally comes from the Sirte basin, of which Sarir field is part – prompting the panic.

An official from the Man-Made River facility said staff based there were evacuated, and this might have a temporary impact on water supplies.

The attack came a day after IS Tripolitania Province released a video showing the execution of two soldiers in its custody. In it the clip titled “Messages to Benghazi”, a militant, speaking in an Gulf accent, lauds the mujahideen in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna.

At the end two soldiers the group had captured in Benghazi are shot dead. They are identified as Badr Nuri Faraj Mohamed Bingawab, 29, from the army’s First Brigade and Tareq Ibrahim Khalil Mami, 20, in the 204 Tank brigade.

The speaker also threatens with more violence against “Jews, Christians, secular infidels and apostates”, including the use of explosives, snipers and suicide operations “inside your homes”.

“We will make you taste the bitterness of war”, he quotes Abu al-Mughirah al-Qahtani, the former leader of the IS Group in Libya who is believed to have been killed in a US airstrike last November.

There were also fears that IS may have seized 15 Egyptian workers on Monday, but reports have turned out to be false. Egyptian media had said an IS-linked group kidnapped the workers from Tripoli and were holding them in a “mountainous area”, quoting a lawyer.

An Egyptian foreign ministry official however later denied the claim, informing that the men had been arrested by Libyan authorities over immigration matters and were safe.

IS beheaded some 30 Egyptian Coptic Christian workers in February last year – killings that were broadcast in a brutal half hour propaganda video. The slaughter prompted Egypt to launch airstrikes around Derna, then IS’s stronghold before they were kicked out of town by local armed groups and they focused their attention on Sirte.

Exploiting Libya’s descent into civil war, IS has steadily expanded over the past year, taking control of a 250km stretch of land around the central city of Sirte. The group also commands pockets of territory in Benghazi and training hubs in Sabratha in the west of the country. It has also repeatedly attacked facilities in the oil crescent and vowed to keep up the attacks.

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