UNITED NATIONS, United States, Jul 19 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday that Islamic State fighters could set up new cells across Libya and north Africa as they are driven from their stronghold of Sirte.
Ban outlined the threat from foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) in Libya in a confidential report to the Security Council, obtained by AFP.
“The recent pressure against ISIL in Libya could lead its members, including FTFs, to relocate and regroup in smaller and geographically dispersed cells throughout Libya and in neighboring countries,” Ban said in the report.
The defeat of IS fighters in Sirte “appears to be a distinct possibility”, leading many to flee south as well as west, to Tunisia.
“The future impact of scattered ISIL combatants on southern local armed groups may become an issue of concern,” he said.
Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government in Tripoli have been battling to take Sirte from IS fighters for the past two months.
The coastal city is considered one of IS’s most important rear bases outside of Syria and Iraq.
There are between 2,000 and 5,000 IS fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Mauritania deployed in Sirte, Tripoli and Derna, according to the report.
Dozens of foreign fighters from Tunisia have returned home from Libya “with the intent to conduct attacks,” it added.
The ties extend further afield, with funds from Libya sent to Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, a jihadist group that operates in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, the report said.
Ban said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is active in Mali and across the Sahel region, continues to use Libya as a sanctuary and a base to buy arms and ammunition.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the Al-Mourabitoun group active in the Sahel, is able to travel throughout Libya with relative ease while the head of Ansar Dine in northern Mali, Iyad Ag Ghaly, maintains a foothold in southern Libya, the report said.