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How to help Libya … before it’s too late

The Islamic State is gaining ground in Libya, already having seized control of Sirte, an hour's flight from southern Europe.

While the US-led coalition has been busy attacking Islamic State (IS) strongholds in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, the faraway coastal city of Sirte, Libya, has been seized by the extremist group. Only an hour's flight from Europe’s southern shores, Sirte fell without a shot of resistance. What began as a small group of locals pledging allegiance to IS has evolved into a sizeable force that has extended its control nearly 40 miles west of Sirte and nearly twice that to the east, threatening the city of Ajdabiya and even Benghazi.

Omar, a civil servant who requested the use of a pseudonym, has lived all of his 30 years in Sirte. He told Al-Monitor by phone, “IS now has full control of the city and all roads leading to Sirte in all directions.” IS has imposed laws banning tobacco sales and smoking and ordering women to cover their hair. “Actually, my own brother was jailed for a couple of days because they caught him smoking in the street,” Omar said. Like other residents, he is extremely worried and is already planning to leave if his mother agrees to go with him.

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