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Islamic State attacks key oil facility in northern Libya

The Libyan army said they managed to repulse the attack on the refinery
An image made available by propaganda Islamist media outlet Welayat Tarablos (AFP)

Forces affiliated to the Islamic State group attacked a key oil facility in northern Libya on Monday but were pushed back, an army official said.

IS first set off a suicide car bomb at a military checkpoint at the entrance to the town of al-Sidra near the Ras Lanouf oil facility. The militants then clashed with troops guarding the facility but were repulsed, Bashir Boudhfira, a colonel in the army loyal to Libya's House of Representatives parliament said. Two soldiers had been killed, he added. 

"We were attacked by a convoy of a dozen vehicles belonging to IS," Boudhfira told AFP. "They then launched an attack on the town of Ras Lanouf via the south but did not manage to enter."

IS has been trying to push east from its Libyan power base of Sirte for several weeks in order to reach the country's "oil crescent" where Libya's main oil terminals such as al-Sidra and Ras Lanouf are based. A Libyan oil official told AFP that a 420,000-barrel oil tank in Ras Lanouf caught fire during the clashes.

IS on Twitter announced that its fighters had led an "attack on the al-Sidra area followed by violent clashes with the enemies of God".

The group said that the attack came after it took control of Ben Jawad town, 150 kilometres east of the central coastal city Sirte, previously the stronghold of late ruler Muammar Gadaffi, which has been under IS control since June 2015.

No official or army source could confirm this.

Monday's attack is the first of its kind since IS seized Sirte last summer.

Forces affiliated to IS have gained ground in Libya amid a political vacuum exacerbated by a civil war in which the country has been left with two competing parliaments.

IS has been portrayed as a new phenomenon in Libya, despite its leaders being Libyan and having a long history of being involved in Islamist militancy and being loyal to the ousted Gaddafi regime.  

The oft-cited spiritual leader of IS in Libya is Hassan al-Karamy from Benghazi. Karamy’s family is split between loyalty to the former Gaddafi regime and a desire to establish a caliphate in Libya, Middle East Eye reported in December.