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Misrata militias rushed to battle as IS advances across Libya

City's TV channels urge members to return from leave as commanders order all fighters to key crossroads taken by Islamic State group
Misrata has been the target of several IS attacks in recent months (AFP)

Commanders in Libya's third city Misrata rushed militiamen to a key crossroads on Friday after it was overrun by the Islamic State (IS) group in an assault in which a suicide bomber killed two police.

The Abu Grein crossroads lies 120km south of Misrata where the highway along Libya's Mediterranean coast meets the main road south into the desert interior.

It was captured by IS on Thursday in an advance from their stronghold in the city of Sirte 140km to the east.

The head of the Misrata military council, Colonel Ibrahim Bel-Rajab, said he had ordered all brigades under his command to head to Abu Grein without delay, Libya's LANA news agency reported.

"Numerous armed vehicles of IS have been spotted in this area," he said.

Misrata's two main television channels broadcast appeals to militiamen on leave to return to their barracks.

In a statement, IS said a Tunisian fighter had blown up a vehicle at the crossroads allowing other fighters to advance and take control of it and five other villages in the area, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

IS captured Sirte in June last year and has since transformed it into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants.

With its port and airport, there are fears IS could use the city as a staging post for attacks on European soil.

Western powers including the US, UK and France have openly considered international military intervention in Libya against IS.

Experts have said that any future foreign strikes could target Sirte as well as the region around it.

IS is estimated to have around 5,000 fighters in Libya, and is trying to attract hundreds more.