Gunmen claiming to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have seized control of a state-run radio station in Libya’s coastal city of Sirte, residents said on Friday.
Jihadist websites also posted pictures showing armed men sitting in front of microphones in a broadcasting studio and brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles.
“They took Radio Sirte yesterday (Thursday). Since then they have been broadcasting (verses from) the Qur’an and speeches by (ISIS chief Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi,” a resident of the central city told AFP by telephone.
The resident said speeches of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani were also being played on the air.
A former local administration official said the gunmen have also set up a headquarters in the center of the city, and voiced concern that they could declare an emirate in Sirte.
“They could take advantage of the absence of any central government authority to transform the city into an Islamic emirate as they did in Derna,” an eastern city held by jihadist groups including ISIS, which is most active in Iraq and Syria.
The man, who declined to be named, said the gunmen apparently seized the radio “as a first step to communicate with the population.”
“The situation in Sirte is very complex,” he said, because many radical groups have a foothold there.
Since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Sirte, the former strongman’s hometown has become a stronghold of extremist groups.
Sirte is a bastion of Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group blacklisted by the United Nations and the United States.
Militias of the Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) coalition also control some parts of Sirte, and launching attacks against key oil installations nearby in December.
In August, Fajr Libya militants attacked the capital Tripoli and forced the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani flee to remote eastern cities.
Fajr Libya also controls the second city of Benghazi and has established its own government and parliament.
Powerful militias, backing rival governments and parliaments, have been battling for control of key cities and the country’s oil riches since the uprising.
Amid the chaos, ISIS has made an appearance in Libya where it has claimed a series of attacks. The latest targeted a luxury hotel in Tripoli on January 27, when nine people were killed, five of them foreigners.
Meanwhile, Egypt is reportedly working on evacuating its citizens wishing to flee Libya following reports that a group of Egyptian workers were kidnapped there by ISIS.
“President [Abdel-Fattah] al-Sisi has ordered an emergency evacuation for those wishing to return to Egypt,” the country’s official MENA news agency quoted an official source as saying on Friday.
The source said that the Foreign Ministry had renewed warnings against traveling to Libya and that it advised Egyptians living in Libya to avoid flashpoint areas.
On Thursday, an ISIS-linked militant group in Libya said that it had kidnapped 21 Egyptian Christians.
Official sources have not yet confirmed the accuracy of the claim.
The group also published photos of some people clad in orange costumes, widely known to be the execution attire for previous ISIS hostages, as a call back to the outfits of detainees in the US Guantanamo Bay prison.
Libyan ISIS Branch Captures Radio Station in Northern City of Sirte | Al Akhbar English.