A surprise ISIS attack on Misratan Military Council forces in Abu Grein this week has allowed ISIS to capture several towns southwest of Sirte and rapidly institute its control over the local population. The attack, which occurred on 5 and 6 May, included two suicide bombings (by Tunisian ISIS members). The fighting killed 12 Misratans and eight ISIS militants. The Misratans were forced to withdraw 70 kilometres to the west. The surprise assault, which ISIS named “The Battle of Sheikh Abi Ali Al Anbari,” has further expanded ISIS’s territorial control to southwest of Sirte, including Abu Grein, Abu Njeem, Wadi Zamzam, Al Balgha, Al Washka, Wadi Bey and Al Buwirat. The nearby town of Bani Walid — the home of the Warfalla, 50 kilometres west of Wadi Zamzam — is witnessing a large influx of refugees fleeing these areas, in addition to refugees from Sirte who have continued to arrive throughout the last few weeks.
ISIS has already applied draconian measures to the residents of Abu Grein, Abu Njeem and Wadi Zamzam, including anti-woman ‘witch-hunts’ and burning of ‘haram’ commodities. ISIS has also established Shari’a courts in Abu Grein, painting its flag on the buildings and set up an execution square in front of the local police station. In Wadi Zamzam, a retired colonel was executed on 6 May, after which, ISIS assembled residents in a mosque and demanded they submit to ISIS authority. ISIS had required regular army and police officers to declare their ‘tawbah’ (repentance) from formal Libyan state actors. This seems to be akin to demanding a ‘bayah’ (pledge of allegiance) from these units. ISIS also set up a ‘Hesba’ (inspectorate) unit in Al-Gaddahiya area of Wadi Zamzam, and has established new checkpoints that are manned by Tunisian and Somali nationals. ISIS militants are currently scouring the area to arrest additional ‘wanted’ persons.
ISIS advanced south towards Jufra after taking Abu Njeem, and is reportedly positioned in the mountains of Al-Rouagha and Harouge, 240 kilometres south of Sirte. During the advance, ISIS clashed with Misratan fighters at Jufra Air Base, near the central Libyan town of Waddan, on 6 May.
ISIS has extensively employed propaganda in the last week, exploiting Libyan political divisions, particularly the ill feeling that many actors have built up against Misrata. ISIS released photographs on 8 May showing Libyan tribal elders, allegedly from the Warfalla, Qadhadhifa and Awlad Sulayman, pledging allegiance to ISIS. The group also circulated a video report of battles in Benghazi against the LNA, and a photo report of the latest its assault against Misratan forces west of Sirte.