Travelling in 30 pick-up trucks, the jihadists stormed the coastal city after three of their men were captured by a rival militia on Wednesday night. There are fears for the city’s priceless heritage, including a 3rd-century Roman amphitheatre that is one the best preserved in the world.
Black-clad militants quickly set up checkpoints across the city, easily overpowering the residents. “There was no resistance. No one wanted to provoke them, so they set up their checkpoints and drove about town showing off their weapons,” one terrified resident said. “They wanted to show who really controls the town.”
He said that Isis already had numerous training camps in the city’s suburbs. “The camps have moved so close to the city centre now we hear them training at night.”
The militants later dismantled their checkpoints and returned to their camps, after successfully retrieving the three jihadists — a Libyan and two Tunisians — who had been taken by a rival militia.
The capture of Sabratha, 300 miles west of their Libyan stronghold in Sirte, illustrates the group’s efforts to turn Libya into a “back-up” caliphate as it comes under increased pressure in Syria and Iraq. Jihadists there have already taken chisels and explosives to famous sites like Palmyra and Nimrud, executing the archaeologists who had dedicated their lives to preserving them. Isis has celebrated the capture of ancient sites by moving quickly to destroy them.