Even as they ruled through fear and brutality, as their counterparts have in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State officials in Libya aspired to create a government with a functioning bureaucracy, public services and a credible judicial system.
Residents in the fractured coastal city of Sirte described the militants’ ambitions in interviews last week, offering a portrait of the group’s efforts to extend its self-proclaimed caliphate into Libya. With its defenses crumbling in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State increasingly saw Sirte as a possible substitute capital, especially if its Syrian haven of Raqqa fell.
That goal now appears distant as pro-government militias, backed by the United States and other allies, have captured key positions that were held by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and are pursuing hundreds of militants remaining in Sirte.
But what unfolded in Sirte opens a window into the group’s still-bubbling aspirations in North Africa. It also illuminates its vision of a nation run by a harsh interpretation of ancient Islamic codes and a carrot-and-stick approach to ruling the populations under its control.
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