Islamic State battles to seize control of key Libyan oil depot

Attack on port of Sidra comes as Britain prepares to send troops to help new Libyan government take on terror group

Pressure for British troops to be deployed against Islamic State militants in Libya grew on Monday after the terror group attempted to seize the country's largest oil depot.
At least two people were killed when Isil fighters launched a combined gun and suicide car bomb attack on the Sidra oil port on Libya's Mediterranean coast. A rocket fired into a 420,000 barrel oil tank also sparked a huge blaze.
Sidra lies around 130 miles east along the coast from the late Colonel Gaddafi's home city of Sirte, where Isil first raised its black jihadist flag a year ago.
The prospect of Isil also grabbing lucrative oil facilities will increase pressure on Britain to press ahead with a plan to send troops to help Libya's fledgling government push Isil out.
Under the plan, up to 1,000 British troops would form part of a 6,000-strong joint force with Italy - Libya's former colonial power - in training and advising Libyan forces. British special forces could also be engaged on the front line.
The offer of help from Britain and Libya has been contingent on Libya's two main rival political factions - the House of Representatives and the General National Congress - forming a unity government, which finally did just before Christmas,
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on reports on Monday that British special forces were already doing ground recces for a large scale anti-Isil offensive around Sirte.
While some reports have claimed that the British-Italian force could be arriving in Libya within weeks, a government source said: "The pre-Christmas agreement needs to be fleshed out and proper structures put in place. I would have though we are talking months rather than weeks."
He added: "It's more about the training side where our focus will be, rather than a more kinetic element.
Precise details of the attack on Sidra were still unclear as of Monday night, although commanders of an armed protection force that guards Libya's oil infrastructure said that the Isil offensive had been repelled.
While Sidra's oil depot has been out of action for much of the past year because of Libya's ongoing civil war, capturing it would still have been a major prize for Isil, which has earned millions of dollars from its control of oil facilities in Syria.
The group carried out a previous failed attack on Sidra in October, setting off a car bomb and raiding a perimeter gate.
An Isil flag painted on the front of the Ougadougou conference centre in Sirte, LibyaAn Isil flag painted on the front of the Ougadougou conference centre in Sirte, Libya  Photo: Sam Tarling/The Telegraph
Until now, Sidra has been under the control of Ibrahim al-Jathran, a federalist and former rebel commander who is loyal to neither House of Representatives and the General National Congress.
In a statement circulated online, Isil said that the operation was named after one of their late leaders, Abu Mughira al- Qahtani, who is believed to have been killed by a US airstrike two months ago in Derna, another Isil-held city.
-local social media accounts from reporting has takeover the site of Harouge oil company (formerly Veba). No confirmation!
Libya has been in a state of near-chaos for the last two years as a result of the fighting between its main political factions.
On one side is the General National Congress, which controls Tripoli and is backed by a range of Islamist and non-Islamist militias.
On the other is the more secular House of Representatives, which relocated to the eastern city of Tobruk in summer 2014 after being forced from Tripoli by the militias loyal to the Congress.
The two have until now been bitter rivals, the House of Representatives viewing the Congress as hardline Islamists, and the Congress viewing the House of Representatives as Gaddafi loyalists bent on restoring the old regime to power.
Last month's move to form a unity government, which came after nearly a year of United Nations-brokered peace talks, is seen as crucial to the country's chances of stabilising itself.
The West is anxious for Libyan co-operation now just against Isil, but also in the fight to stop the trans-Mediterranean people-smuggling trade, for which Libya is a major staging point.



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