Last updated: 27 February, 2015

Libya warns of more air strikes with Egypt against IS

Libya’s internationally recognised premier threatened new air strikes with Egypt against the Islamic State group in his country, warning Friday that the jihadists were poised to widen their presence there.

Abdullah al-Thani was referring to February 16 air strikes on the IS stronghold of Derna after the group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, mostly Egyptians.

Thani was speaking to journalists after meeting Egyptian officials to discuss the security situation in Libya, where IS has recently gained a foothold among the many forces vying for control of the oil-rich North African nation.

Following this month’s air strikes, in which Libyan forces also took part, Cairo called for international intervention against IS but that appeal was met with reticence by world powers.

But Thani on Friday made it clear that his government and Egypt would act on their own if need be, and reiterated a call for his government to be supplied with arms.

“Any time there is a danger and a threat, there will be air strikes, in complete coordination between Egypt and Libya,” he said.

Asked if that meant Egyptian warplanes would take part, he said: “Of course I am speaking of Egyptian raids.”

Using an Arabic acronym for IS, he said “Daesh is well-established in the region of Sirte and does not hide its presence in Tripoli. If troops are not provided with the weapons they need, the group will deploy throughout Libya.”

Last week, Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi appealed to the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo on Libya to allow its military to fight jihadists.

He emphasised that he was not seeking international military intervention, but that there was no time to lose to equip the army to confront the emboldened extremists.

Libya has descended into chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Thani’s government was forced to flee to the country’s east in June after militias, among them Islamists, seized Tripoli and other main cities.

Some militias have pledged allegiance to IS, but the main ones, including the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya coalition that backs a rival government in Tripoli and has been involved in the peace talks, have not done so.

The chaos in Libya has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of migrants attempting to travel across the Mediterranean to Europe.

At the same time, particularly since the recent beheadings, more than 25,000 Egyptians have fled the country, the foreign ministry said in Cairo Friday.

The ministry said 21,407 had returned overland, while another 4,122 had crossed into Tunisia, from where they were flown home on government-chartered flights.

There are no firm figures for the number of Egyptians working in Libya, but estimates run into the hundreds of thousands.

Before the 2011 uprising, around 1.5 million Egyptians worked in Libya, mostly in construction and services.

But hundreds of thousands fled that year’s bloodshed and numbers have fallen further amid the turmoil that has gripped Libya ever since.