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Fight against extremist groups in Libya a “holy war”: Haftar - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Libya’s Gen. Khalifa Haftar (Front-C) speaks during a televised press conference in eastern Libya, on February 21, 2015. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Libya’s Gen. Khalifa Haftar (Front-C) speaks during a televised press conference in eastern Libya, on February 21, 2015. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The fight against extremist groups in Libya represents a “holy war,” the army general leading military operations against jihadist groups in the country said on Saturday, in response to a deadly suicide bomb attack in the east of the country which killed more than 40 people.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat prior to giving a televised statement on the attack, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army’s Operation Dignity seeking to wrest back control of parts of Libya captured or controlled by Islamist militants, said that defeating these groups was now “the main priority for the Libyan army.”

Surrounded by senior officers and leadership figures from the Libyan army, Haftar added: “Our mission is not only to punish these criminals for their acts but to seek revenge for our martyrs who have fallen at the hands of these terrorists.”

Haftar condemned Friday’s suicide bomb attack, which occurred in the town of Qubba in eastern Libya near the headquarters of the country’s internationally recognized government and left 42 people dead, according to Libyan health and security officials.

“We were shocked by the heinous crimes that were committed by barbaric terrorists in Qubba,” Haftar said during the televised statement and reiterated the Libyan army’s “determination . . . to defeat terrorism,” adding that the Libyan army would “spare no effort” in achieving this goal.

The attack was claimed by an armed militant group claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who said in a statement that it was a response to the latest Egyptian airstrikes campaign launched last week against ISIS targets in the country.

The campaign comes following ISIS’s release of a video which showed it executing 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers in Libya whom it had abducted the previous month.

Libya is currently in turmoil with Islamist and other armed rebel groups who fought in the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi vying for control of the country’s main ports and cities. Both the capital Tripoli and the eastern port city of Benghazi are now under the control of radical Islamist groups whom Haftar’s Operation Dignity is seeking to unseat.

Haftar is allied to the country’s internationally recognized parliament in Tobruk, but many of the Islamist groups have sided with the country’s now-dissolved, Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC), which is based out of Tripoli.