ISIS a step away from Libya oil wells, plans to seize them – French DM

A general view shows Libya's El Sharara oilfield © Ismail Zetouni
France has warned that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has its sights set on Libya’s lucrative oil wells. The militant group’s oil revenues are taking a hit following Russian and Western military intervention in Syria.

The announcement was made by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said IS forces are moving inland from their coastal strongholds into Libya’s interior, where much of the oil wells are located.

"They are in Sirte and their territory extends 250km along the coast. However, they are starting to penetrate into the interior and may be tempted by the oil wells and reserves on offer," Le Drian told RTL radio.

Despite the alarming statement, Le Drian has ruled out any military intervention in Libya.

“That’s not on the agenda. One cannot release the Libyans from their responsibilities by suggesting there might one day be an intervention. They must find solutions themselves,” he said on December 4, speaking to Jeune Afrique weekly.

It also seems that Libya’s cultural treasures could be under threat. After IS militants captured the town of Sabratha last week. The settlement is home to a UNESCO world heritage site and has one of the world’s best-preserved Roman amphitheaters.

If the archeological jewel is destroyed, it would rival or even surpass the devastation cause by IS in Palmyra, Syria.

The announcements will come as an embarrassment for France, which was one of the main advocates of military action in 2011 to depose its former leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

An interview given by Gadaffi’s son Saif, now awaiting execution, in 2011 has shown that Libya’s worst fears have been realized.

"Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean. You will see the pirates in Sicily, in Crete, in Lampedusa. You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door," he noted.

This has also led to the rise of extremist groups in the oil-rich North African nation. There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 IS fighters in Libya, including 1,500 in the coastal city of Sirte, according to UN data.

“We see foreign jihadists arriving in the region of Sirte [in northern Libya] who, if our operations in Syria and Iraq succeed in reducing the territorial reach of Daesh [an Arabic term for IS] could tomorrow be more numerous,” Le Drian added.

This has led to the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls contradicting his defense minister by saying that the fight against IS should potentially be extended to Libya.

"We are living with the terrorist threat. We have a common enemy, Daesh, which we must defeat and destroy in Iraq and Syria and probably tomorrow in Libya," he told Europe 1 radio.

On Sunday, the global powers backed the idea of trying to form a national unity government in Libya, to try and stabilize the war-torn country. They pledged to provide economic and security support.

"We stand ready to support the implementation of the political agreement and underline our firm commitment to providing the Government of National Accord with full political backing and technical, economic, security and counter-terrorism assistance, as requested," the statement from the 17 countries attending the talks read, as cited by Reuters.

The new deal brokered by the UN would allow the Libyan government to call for outside military assistance if it wished.

There are currently two competing factions in Libya: the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), a loose alliance of militias including Islamists; and the House of Representatives, which is internationally recognized.

The only problem is, the House of Representatives, which suffered a number of defeats by the GNC in 2014 and lost the capital, Tripoli, effectively does not have a powerbase and is restricted only to the city of Tobruk in the east.