Libya: ISIS downing regime warplanes?

A MiG-23 fighter of Libya's internationally recognized government was shot down Feb. 12 as it carried out air-strikes in Benghazi, where the military is battling Islamist militias, some loyal to the rebel government that controls Tripoli. A military spokesman said the plane was bombing positions of the Mujahedeen Shura Council. But in an online statement, ISIS claimed its fighters downed the plane, according to SITE Intelligence Group. The pilot is believed to have survived, having parachuted to safety, although his whereabouts are unknown. This was apparently the second downing of a Libyan warplane that week. Four days earlier, another regime MiG-23 crashed near the eastern city of Derna after attacking ISIS positions—although the official LANA news agency blamed "technical problems." In early January, another government MiG 23 came down in Benghazi. (AFP, Feb. 13)

At the Munich Security Conference now underway, foreign ministers put pressure on Libya's official government to agree to a unity deal with the rival regime in light of the growing threat from ISIS. "There is no time to lose for the national unity government to assume its functions and securely establish itself in Tripoli," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, after a meeting on the sidelines of the conference. The speaker of Libya's recognized parliament, Aguila Saleh, was also present. (Middle East Eye, Feb. 13)

With an estimated 1,500 fighters in control of Sirte, ISIS has started to impose its own rule of law in the city, with dress codes for men and women, gender segregation in school classrooms, and establishment of a religious police force. Witnesses say punishments inflicted on residents, for crimes ranging from theft or alcohol production to "spying," include imprisonment, amputations, public crucifixions and beheadings. The head of intelligence in nearby Misrata says most of the ISIS fighters who control Sirte are foreigners—from Tunisia, Iraq or Syria. (BBC News, Feb. 3)