The Islamic State (IS) group has captured the Libyan town of Ben Jawad, close to the country’s vital oil ports, the militants said Monday.
The ultra-hardline group, which has taken advantage of years of chaos to grab territory in Libya, made the claim in an online statement. There was no one from Libya’s authorities immediately available to comment on the town’s capture.
IS group fighters also clashed with a force guarding the nearby Es Sider oil export terminal on Libya’s coast Monday, according to witnesses, while the IS group said they had set off a suicide car bomb during the fighting, causing casualties.
Es Sider and nearby Ras Lanuf oil ports, between Sirte and Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast, have been closed for more than a year amid fighting between rival factions for control of the North African state and its lucrative energy reserves.
The IS group has been attempting “to obtain the allegiance of the different factions controlling the [oil] sector since the end of 2013”.
The group controls the city of Sirte and has attacked several oilfields in the south of Libya – though it has so far not taken control of any oil installations as it has done in Syria.
Libya has been split between rival governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east of the country, creating a security vacuum that militants have exploited.
Es Sider is protected by Ibrahim al-Jathran’s Petrol Facilities Guard, an armed faction which has backed the internationally recognised government in the east, but is also in conflict with other forces supporting that government.
The United Nations has been trying to win support for a deal brokered in Morocco last month to create a national unity government for Libya.
Separately on Monday, a military plane that was targeting militant groups in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi was shot down, though the pilot ejected, senior army commander Fadel al-Hassi told Reuters.
Military forces allied to the internationally recognised government based in the east have been battling militants based in the city for months.