The Assault on the Oil Crescent – ‘The Battle of Abu Al Mughira’

The 3 day ISIS assault on oil crescent ports last week was successfully thwarted by the Petroleum Facilities Guard forces (PFG) and local volunteers. Nine PFG forces and around 30 IS members were killed in these clashes which destroyed over a billion dollars worth of infrastructure and stored oil. IS also targeted Ras Lanuf port was with random artillery fire, and another suicide bomber, identified by IS as Abu Abbas Al Muhajir, detonated a rigged truck (VBIED) in the main checkpoint near Ras Lanuf oil terminal. 7 were killed including 3 PFG units, with heavy damage to the area.

PFG forces also managed to repel a seaborne offensive on the port on 10 January, after intercepting Three ISIS boats as they were approaching the shore, destroying two of them. The seaborne attack was likely aimed at landing behind PFG lines to disorient the force and score spectacular infrastructure destruction, to could capture media headlines and demoralize the population further.

ISIS were successfully pushed back by the PFG west to the city of Bin Jawwad, 40 km west of Sidra, and the city is now under their full control.  Sources report that ISIS are conducting raids throughout the town detaining members of the police, army, and the PFG who have not ‘repented’ or given Bayah (loyalty) to IS.  So far, sources report that 6 members of the PFG were killed in the town, while other reports mention that ISIS beheaded five former sec personal near the court house in  the city,  and around 200 have been transported to Nawfaliyah.

ISIS expansion in Western Libya

After last week’s flash offensive on the oil crescent ports Sidra and Ras Lanuf was repelled, a rigged water truck exploded on the morning of 7 January in Zliten, a coastal city just west of Misrata. The attack resulted in the killing at least 65 police recruits and injuring more than 200, in the largest ever terrorist attack in Libyan history.  The attack was likely an attempt to compensate for quick response to the failure of the group in to capture the oil crescent. The attack caused notable shock and anger from the local populations, especially in the Libyan western region, who have not felt the brunt of IS takeover expansion and terrorism as other areas such as Benghazi, Derna, Sirte and Ajdabiya. While the attack may backfire in the long-term, by galvanizing popular anti-IS sentiment in western Libya, it worked as a way to maintain the groups offensive momentum, and was followed by a number of other IS operations in the following days.

A vehicle exploded on 8 January in Telil area near Sabratha by IS linked extremists. Initial reports indicate the incident was likely a testing exercise by IS operatives. A Tunisian was also arrested in a public market in al Jmil, near Sabratha after unsuccessfully attempting to blow his suicide vest. The mayor of the city of Gharyan also survived an assassination attempt, which sources say was also an IS operation.

The sudden frequency of these incidents highlight a dramatic shift in IS tactics, from sleeper cell germination, to more active attacks against the local population. Additionally, and according to reports by local Libya media, ISIS is planning to target Misrata, Tripoli & Tarhuna with suicide bombings, after establishing bases and operational cells in these cities.