Libya slipping into Isis' grip

By Colin Freeman in Misrata

Black flag now flies over Gaddafi's former home city Sirte as Islamists exploit rebel disunity.
Libyan woman and children wave their national flags during a demonstration against a UN-sponsored agreement on forming a national unity government. Photo / AP
Libyan woman and children wave their national flags during a demonstration against a UN-sponsored agreement on forming a national unity government. Photo / AP

Sitting in the shabby parlour of his temporary home, Haaji Mohammed can barely bring himself to watch the Isis video playing on his mobile phone.

The film was made just last month - yet the horrific scenes it shows could be from 500 years ago.

Kneeling before a masked executioner are two men in orange jumpsuits, charged under a statute that drags even the medieval barbarity of Isis (Islamic State) to new depths.

The pair are accused of sorcery, and just as in witchcraft trials of old, justice is swift, brutal and dispensed to the sound of a baying mob.

As the executioner beheads them with a 1.2m scimitar, a crowd of men and boys scream "Allahu Akhbar", jostling for a closer look.

Mohammed is less keen. "I know that man personally," he says, pointing to the older of the two defendants, whom he names as Said Jabr. "He is not a witch, he is just an alternative healer who does homeopathy and acupuncture."

The Isis callousness will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen their countless execution videos from Iraq and Syria.

Yet this latest broadcast was shot in the group's new "caliphate" in Libya, where it now controls Colonel Gaddafi's former home city of Sirte, just 560km south of Italy.

Stuffed with civic vanity buildings erected in Gaddafi's honour, Sirte's grandiose skyline was all but flattened in the 2011 revolution, when rebel groups vowed to teach the tyrant's stronghold a lesson.

Now the tables have been turned, as the city's humiliated Gaddafi remnants join forces with Isis in revenge and many of the rebels have fled to the nearby city of Misrata.

Formed by a vanguard of just a few dozen fighters a year ago, Isis' Sirte chapter is now believed to be up to 3000 strong, imposing a regime of beheadings and crucifixions.

I used to be upset when I saw people killed. Now it means nothing.
Ahmed, 23

Britain has offered 1000 troops to a 5000-strong Italian force to help Libya's fledgling security forces take Isis on, though they would be confined to training roles.

For two years the country has been in a low-level civil war between two rival administrations, whose main achievement has been to distract each other enough for Isis to get a hold.

Following a peace deal signed last month after UN-backed talks, the two factions are attempting to form a unity government. Diplomats fear, though, that even the threat of Isis may not be enough to make them pull together.

The chaos and discontent that Isis has exploited so deftly in Sirte remains across the country. Western embassies have withdrawn from Tripoli because of fears of kidnappings and terrorist attack.

Many of the young ex-revolutionaries are now wondering why their reward for toppling one of the world's most feared dictators is merely to face another psychopathic force in the form of Isis.

"Blood has become like smoke," said Ahmed, 23. "I used to be upset when I saw people killed. Now it means nothing."

Misrata is relatively unified by Libyan standards, but it appears to have met its match in Isis-controlled Sirte.

Misratan commanders say a major offensive is being planned against Isis in Sirte, and that Western help will be welcome.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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