Libya's official government conducts air strikes on militants

By Ayman al-Warfalli
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, in a file photo. REUTERS/Stringer

By Ayman al-Warfalli

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya's internationally recognised government carried out air strikes on Tuesday against Islamic State militants in the eastern city of Derna, a senior commander said.

The North African country is in the throes of a power truggle with two governments allied to dozens of armed groups fighting each other four years after the uprising that ousted veteran strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi.

While unable to defeat each other on several front lines across the oil-producing state, both governments have also been clashing with Islamic State insurgents exploiting a security vacuum as in Iraq and Syria.

Saqer al-Joroushi, air force commander of the official Libyan government based in the east since losing control of Tripoli in August, said his warplanes had hit Islamic State positions in Derna on Monday and Tuesday.

"We ask all residents to stay away from checkpoints and Islamic State locations," Joroushi told Reuters. "We also warn fishers and tankers against approaching the coast all the way to Derna."

Egyptian jets bombed Derna in February after Islamic State published a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. Islamic State and other militant groups have established a large presence in the eastern coastal town.

Critics say the official government's outdated planes often hit civilian targets.

Two foreign seamen were killed when a Greek-operated fuel tanker docked at Derna port was bombed in January. The government said it had been transporting arms. A Tripoli-based state oil firm said it had been carrying fuel for a power plant.

The capital has been under control of a rival government and parliament set up after an armed group seized Tripoli in August by expelling a rival group allied to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

Both competing governments have teamed up with former anti-Gaddafi rebels who worked together in 2011 to topple Gaddafi but now have split along regional, tribal and political lines.