Islamic State Libya Branch Attacks Major Oil Export Complex

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Getty Images
Washington, DC

The Islamic State’s (IS) affiliate in Libya has started the new year by launching an attack on two major oil stations in the country’s east, torching an oil tank at one of the facilities in an attempt to grab hold over the country’s oil supply.

The jihadi aggression comes following a power-sharing agreement signed by the two rivaling parties in Libya, who hoped for the formation of a recognized national government within the next couple weeks.

A spokesman for the Libyan National Oil company confirmed that a crude-oil tank at the Ras Lanuf oil facility had been exploded, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Islamic State fighters were also able to breach a separate facility thanks to two car bombings at the Es Sider oil port, a Libyan spokesperson said Monday, according to AFP, reporting that a 12-vehicle convoy breached the port entrance.

The Es Sider and Ras Lanuf facilities have the combined capacity to ship 560,000 barrels of oil a day, which accounted for about half of the country’s oil exports before the facilities were shut down due to the unstable situation on the ground. However, the facilities do contain massive amounts of oil in storage locations. A Libyan official estimated the facility currently contained 500,000 barrels of oil.

Two guards were killed in the Islamic State operation, according to the BBC, which reports that IS forces are said to be pushed back from the oil ports. At least four IS fighters and one civilian were killed during the raid, according to Libyan news site Libya’s Channel.

IS insurgents in Libya have for some time held Sirte, a Mediterranean coastal town. The city was taken by IS in February 2014, and the jihadi militants have utilized Sirte to generate oil revenues. Some 5,000 fighters who pledged allegiance to IS now rule over the city, according to reports.

U.S. anti-terrorism officials have warned that the IS branch in Libya presents a unique threat to global security.

“Libya is the affiliate that we’re most worried about,” said Patrick Prior, a former top DIA official, at recent D.C. counterterror conference. “It’s the hub from which they project across all of North Africa.”

Libya has been largely in a state of chaos, four years after the overthrow of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, allowing for the IS affiliate to continue to grow without a unified operation to combat the group’s expansion.