An attack by Islamist militants on a Libyan oilfield where they beheaded security guards and kidnapped foreign workers underlines the difficulties facing U.N.-sponsored peace talks due to resume this week.
Libyans have become accustomed to chaos, with their country split between two rival governments each allied to heavily armed groups that have been fighting for control of the oil-producing nation since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
But last week’s attack on the al-Ghani oilfield in central Libya marks a new departure. The attackers did not seize it to make financial or political demands as armed groups often do.
Instead, they mounted a show of force that appeared in line with warnings that the Islamists are bent on exploiting Libya’s turmoil to extend their influence.
“They came to burn the facilities and kidnap or kill the workers and guards,” said Ali al-Hassi, a spokesman for an oilfield security force. “Then they left.”
The militants have not yet made a statement on the attack but officials have blamed Islamic State, which has in the past boasted of its ability to kill soldiers or civilians in Libya.
The U.N. special envoy for a Libya, Bernardino Leon, said last week that Islamic State militants would “stop at nothing” to strengthen their presence in the country.
The violence illustrates the challenge facing the United Nations which has been hosting talks between rival parties with the aim of forming a national unity government.
Libya is divided between the internationally recognised government, which has been based in the east since a faction called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August, reinstated the old assembly and set up a rival administration.
The U.N. had planned to resume talks on Wednesday but the elected parliament, which is also based in the east, asked late on Tuesday for a one-week delay to study a roadmap proposal to form a national government, a parliamentary spokesman said.
There was no immediate reaction from the U.N. and the Tripoli-based rival parliament.
The U.N. has invited moderate leaders to join the talks, which have been going on since September. But analysts see little chance of success as the country is fracturing, with small armed groups increasingly calling the shots, as in the oilfield attack.
“There are too many players — and the fighters don’t necessarily answer to their respective leaderships,” Richard Cochrane, Senior Analyst, MENA, at consultancy IHS Country Risk, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.
Both governments represent loose alliances of former rebel groups who helped topple Gaddafi but have since fallen out along political and regional lines.