CAIRO, (Reuters) - Libyan Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia hopes to seize the eastern city of Benghazi from pro-government forces in the coming days but will not try to capture other cities, its leader said in a video message.
Members of Ansar al-Sharia have been advancing on Benghazi airport, the last bastion held by pro-government forces in the port city. The militants have already overrun several army camps.
Three years after the civil war that toppled veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is in anarchy. The elected parliament has been holed up in Tobruk, east of Benghazi, since the government lost control of the capital Tripoli to an armed group from the west of the country in August.
Lawmakers and Western diplomats worry that Ansar al-Sharia might turn its sights on Tobruk next, in a conflict which threatens to break up the oil-producing country. The group was blamed by Washington for an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 which killed the U.S. ambassador.
“We will finish the battle (of Benghazi) in the coming days,” Ansar al-Sharia leader Mohamed Zawahi said, according to a video posted on social media.
“Afterwards Benghazi will become a better place. We will protect its sons,” he said. “We don’t plan to move this war to other cities.” Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the video.
Diplomats worry Libya is descending towards a failed state as the weak government battles former rebels who helped oust Gaddafi but now use their guns to carve out fiefdoms and seize a share of oil revenues.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Trevelyan