What we know about the fire at Libyan oil ports

Over the past three days, there have been attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State on Libya’s eastern oil ports. According to Libyan officials, these attacks started fires which have spread to five massive oil storage tanks,with about five oil tanks set ablaze.

Firefighters were deployed to control four fires at Es Sider and one at Ras Lanuf in the states. According to reports, two were triggered by Islamic State shelling, after which three more caught fire. A source told Reuters news agency that the oil tanks were estimated to contain between 420,000 to 460,000 barrels of oil.

On Monday and Tuesday at least nine guards were killed while over 40 were injured near neighbouring ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. There are concerns that the group’s activities could have an adverse effect on the North African nation’s energy industry. Previously, militants attacked the guards at Es Sider in October, this latest assault on the ports appear to be more like a concerted effort.

The petroleum facilities guards in charge of securing the oil ports found the bodies of 30 Islamic State fighters and seized two military tanks along with other vehicles from the militants.

In December, representatives of Libya’s two rival powers signed a United Nations peace agreement geared towards the formation of a national unity government by mid-January. Therefore, the attacks have raised some concerns that the Islamist group plans to sabotage the financial viability of this pact between the two rival militia hoping to control Libya by tearing down the country’s main source of revenue generation.

U.S. officials say the Islamic State may be reproducing a strategy of attacks already used against the oil industry in Syria and Iraq.

Es Sider and Ras Lanuf  are located in the city of Sirte – about 200 km (125 miles) along the coast and controlled the eastern city of Benghazi and the Islamic State. The ports have been closed for more than a year.

In March 2015, there was a surge in the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has been described as the most significant threat to the nation since the insecurity noticed during the crackdown on former leader Moammar Gadhafi nearly five years ago. Some of the country’s oil fields were left in shambles following assaults by killers that were allegedly aligned to ISIS.

In the nation’s northwest corner, an Eni pipeline carrying around 10 percent of Italy’s natural gas supplies is positioned near a jihadi training camp but is protected by a militia called Western Shield.

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