Isil joining forces with al-Qa'ida, warns Libya
ISIL is regrouping in southern Libya with the support of al-Qa'ida and preparing for further attacks spearheaded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of the world's most wanted men, according to the country's defence minister.
The alliance in Libya of the two most dangerous terrorist groups is at odds with the public animosity between the leaderships of al-Qa'ida and Isil.
Ayman Al Zawahiri, the head of al-Qa'ida, recently made a blistering public attack on Isil's brutal methods and propaganda, branding them "liars".
But in Libya, fighters from the two groups are "actively cooperating", according to Mahdi Barghathi, the defence minister in the UN-backed government in Tripoli. "Isil and al-Qa'ida have never attacked each other here and now we have evidence that they are actively co-operating," Mr Barghathi said. "Al-Qa'ida is providing logistics and support to help Isil regroup and launch attacks."
Mr Barghathi said that Belmokhtar, the one-eyed al-Qa'ida leader thought to have been killed in 2016, was believed to be alive and leading the remnants of Isil forces who escaped a Libyan offensive to retake Sirte last year.
Belmokhtar became one of the world's most wanted men after he led an attack on an Algerian gas plant in 2013, in which six Britons were among 37 Western hostages killed.
He was rumoured to have been killed in a French air strike in eastern Libya but his body was never recovered. "Based on our intelligence, I believe he is alive and is the guiding force behind the reforming of Isil and al-Qa'ida terrorist operations," said Mr Barghathi.
A Libyan military intelligence report, seen by this reporter, said that up to 700 Isil terrorists had regrouped in the valleys and desert areas south of the city of Bani Walid. An estimated 3,000 terrorist fighters from different groups, including al-Qa'ida, are believed to be operating in Libya.
The report said terrorists were financing themselves from illegal immigration to Europe and gold smuggling.
Small 20-man terrorist units travel the country undetected along service roads that run alongside hundreds of miles of the Great Manmade River.
Sources in Bani Walid named five senior Isil fighters who had fled from Sirte and been seen in the city. One resident said: "The local security forces don't do anything about them because they are scared to cause trouble." (© Daily Telegraph London)