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Islamic State seizes Unesco heritage site in Libya

Fears for the future of the Roman theatre at Sabratha, one of the world's finest relics of classical antiquity

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The Roman amphitheatre of the ancient city of Sabratha Photo: AFP

By Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor1:10PM GMT 11 Dec 2015

Islamic State fighters have seized control of the Libyan town of Sabratha, site of one of the world’s best-preserved ancient Roman theatres.

The fighters moved in a long column of Toyota pick-up trucks into the centre of town on Thursday, in what was initially thought to be a retaliatory raid after two of their men were arrested in a house nearby.

Destruction of the ruins, which rival or even surpass those of Palmyra in Syria, would be regarded as one of the great cultural disasters of modern times.

However, they then set up checkpoints around the town, with little opposition from the local militias that were supposed to be in control of the area.

The town is 50 miles from the Libyan capital Tripoli, which is now facing a threat from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from both west and east.

On the eastern side, the group has moved on from its base in Sirte, the home town of the former dictator Col Muammar Gaddafi, and is attacking Khoms, 70 miles away. Khoms is the site of Leptis Magna, once the capital of the Roman province of Africa and now one of the finest set of historical remains in the world.

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An Isil flag painted on the front of the Ougadougou conference centre in Sirte, Libya Photo: Sam Tarling/The Telegraph

Destruction of the ruins, which rival or even surpass those of Palmyra in Syria, would be regarded as one of the great cultural disasters of modern times. The jihadists have already blown up the Temple of Baal and other parts of Palmyra.

Islamist groups set up training camps west of Tripoli off the road to the Libyan border with Tunisia not long after the fall of Col Gaddafi.

At first, they were controlled by a mixture of militias. However, some were taken over by the hardline Ansar al-Sharia, and began to be used as training camps for fighters from both Libya and Tunisia.

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The destruction of the Temple of Baal in Palmyra

Eventually, fighters from both countries announced themselves as loyal to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

According to local media, the Isil incursion was sparked when security forces of the Libya Dawn faction which runs most of the west of Libya arrested two men in the nearby town of Surman, an Islamist hotspot.

One was said to be Tunisian, the other a Libyan who had recently returned from Syria, and weapons were also found.

The Libyan was said to be related to a local member of Isil.

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An image purportedly showing Islamic State fighters near Sirte

Photographs posted to social media showed a column of Toyotas pouring into the town.

The men then posed for pictures by a checkpoint, though they were said to have retreated to their base outside the town overnight.

The resolution to the immediate dispute will be of concern to the West and the United Nations, which are trying to reconcile Libya Dawn and the western Libya militias with the recognised government, which only controls part of the east of the country.

The mayor of Sabratha, an Islamist allied to Libya Dawn, is said to have released the man who was arrested after meeting his Isil-linked relative, saying that the local Isil members were “peaceful” and not dominated by foreign fighters.

The recognised government has accused Libya Dawn of allowing extremism to flourish as the country has fallen apart.
Quote: Hasan Sari ‏@HasanSari7 16h16 hours ago

@MFS001 #Libya's beautiful Sabratha under Daesh control now: @EjmAlrai @moscow_ghost @Beltrew

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