Has the Islamic State struck back?
A string of bombings in a town in eastern Libya killed about 40 people and injured scores Friday, officials and news reports said. The speaker of Libya’s parliament blamed militants of Islamic State for the attacks, saying they were apparently in retaliation for Egyptian airstrikes this week.
The deadly blasts took place in Qubba, 20 miles west of the port city of Derna, which has been taken over by Islamic State fighters. Egyptian warplanes on Monday targeted Islamic State training camps and arms caches in and near Derna after the group released a graphic video of the beheadings of 21 men, all but one of them Egyptian Christians, who had been working in Libya as laborers.
Ageila Saleh, the speaker of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament based in the east of the country, told Al Arabiya television that the bombings came after armed men loyal to the eastern government had clashed with Islamic State forces in Derna, and said he believed the strikes were meant as revenge for Monday's air raids. Reuters news agency said a group swearing fealty to Islamic State had claimed responsibility.
Saleh, who lives in Qubba, said there were three separate bombings, with one targeting his home and another hitting a security headquarters, although other reports said there had been a single massive blast. Al Arabiya said about three dozen had died; Reuters said the death toll had reached 40.
Islamic State has recently made inroads in Libya, opening a new front in North Africa away from its main area of operations in Iraq and Syria. Although dwarfed by other armed factions in the Libyan conflict, the group has sought to capitalize on chaos and infighting that have plagued the country since strongman Moammar Kadafi was toppled more than three years ago.
Reflecting the turmoil that has engulfed the energy-rich North African nation, there are two rival governments, the internationally recognized one in the east and another, Islamist-leaning one in Tripoli, the capital.
Islamic State’s show of strength in Libya has alarmed neighboring Egypt, and President Abdel Fattah Sisi sought this week to marshal support for an international military intervention. However, Sisi’s push garnered little support.
Egypt is fighting another Islamic State franchise on its eastern edge, in the Sinai Peninsula. Islamist groups began battling Egyptian security forces after Egypt’s first freely elected president, Islamist Mohamed Morsi, was removed from office by Sisi in 2013.