France: IS fighters could flee Libya to Tunisia, Egypt

France: IS fighters could flee Libya to Tunisia, Egypt
As pro-government forces advance on the Libyan city of Sirte, France has raised concern that Islamic State fighters could re-locate to pastures new.
2 min read
06 September, 2016
Pro-GNA forces claim Sirte could be retaken from IS in a matter of days [Getty]
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has warned that Islamic State group fighters could flee to Egypt and Tunisia as their position in Libya becomes increasingly precarious.

In recent weeks, aided by US airstrikes, forces loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) have retaken the majority of IS’ main strongholds in the north African country.

After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 IS were able to take advantage of the political vacuum to take territory in Libya, seizing the city of Sirte in June 2015. Its capture raised fears the extremist group could use the city as a springboard to launch attacks on Europe.

However, currently pro-GNA forces are battling it out with IS to re-assert control in Sirte, and revealed to Reuters Sunday that gaining full control of the city could be achieved in a matter of days.

National support for the GNA is viewed a crucial to restoring order and stability to the war-torn country.

"We should begin to look seriously at the question of the spread of the terrorists once Sirte... (is) emptied of the terrorists," Le Drian told a defence conference in Paris.

"They don't disappear. There's a new risk," he said, adding: "Indirectly this will pose new risks for Tunisia and Egypt."

Le Drian additionally noted that neighbouring states needed to meet and cooperate with one another in order to combat the threat posed by IS.

Le Drian’s sentiments were echoed by Tunisian Defence Minister Farhat Horchani.

"We have a large number of foreign fighters who arrived from Sirte, or from Syria. I can see no strategy, no cooperation between the states."

While the loss of Sirte would constitute a reversal in fortunes for IS, according to French and US figures, between 5,000 and 7,000 affiliated gunmen remain in Libya.

Le Drian expressed French support for the GNA calling for international recognition of its legitimacy. However the French defence minister also hazarded that Libya’s internal crises would only be solved "if the Libyans themselves secure real political and military coherence."

Agencies contributed to this report