31 May 2015

Libya divided as IS suicide bomber claims another attack near Misrata

The bomber attacked in the early hours. He drove his truck, a Hyundai Santa Fe, straight at the main checkpoint outside Misrata, Libya‘s third city. At least five guards were killed as he exploded – another 10 were injured.

When we arrived a few hours later, a soldier with a bandage on the back of his head told me that he’d been at the side of the road when the vehicle careered through, refusing to stop. “I saw the driver,” he said. “He was a young man. Then it exploded.”

This morning, African migrants in orange overalls were clearing up the rubble. A man drove a mini JCB scooping up stones and twisted metal while yellow bulldozers tried to level the road. Local men gathered round the crater to watch and talk about the new danger they face.

Read more: On the front line of Islamic State’s war on history

The Dafniya checkpoint marks the entrance to Misrata from the Libyan capital, Tripoli. It’s the key point for ensuring the city’s safety. An attack here makes everyone feel vulnerable.

Libya is divided. The elected government, including an armed force led by General, Khalifa Haftar, has been exiled to the east of the country. An alternative government, made up largely of men from Misrata and the Muslim Brotherhood, is based in Tripoli. Both factions are facing a threat from the Islamic State, but instead of uniting to take on the common enemy, are fighting each other.

The prime minister of the Tripoli government, Khalifa Al Ghweil, turned up at the bomb site this morning. Dressed in a dark suit without a tie, he looked shocked. He mouthed platitudes about fighting terrorism and then proceeded to blame his political rivals for today’s attack.

“The biggest enemy are these killers and terrorists and Haftar their leader,” he said. “He’s the cause of these problems – he and the counter revolutionaries.”

So much for the idea of Libyans uniting against an enemy which threatens them all.

In the last few days, Misrata militia have been forced to retreat from the outskirts of the town of Sirte, 250 kilometres to the east, which is under IS control. They cannot fight the jihadis alone. Similarly, General Haftar’s forces seem unable to oust IS from Derna and neighbourhoods in Benghazi in the east. To an outsider, the obvious thing is to form a unity government and get outside help.

But this is Libya, where nothing is obvious, and where men will carry on fighting each other rather than address the real problem. Expect more IS attacks.

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