On the frontline of the battle with jihadists in the Libyan town of Sirte, unexploded mortars and booby traps left by behind by Islamic State terrorists await unwatchful victims on every corner, RT’s William Whiteman reports from the ground.
While the jihadists have already been forced out of most neighborhoods, they have left a perilous legacy behind in Sirte, where explosive devices masked as innocent-looking objects are scattered throughout the city.
One such object shown to Whiteman by the locals was a mannequin “dressed” in a loose shirt with a flower-themed blanket on its knees. The deadly device was hidden in another blanket that was wrapped around its head.
That didn’t prove to be the most intricate trap Whiteman encountered on the freshly liberated territory, however. When the RT crew’s car stopped at the site of an unexploded mortar sticking halfway out in the middle of the road, Whiteman discovered another explosive device hidden in a traffic cone nearby.
“Knowing that the advancing Libyans would want to mark the unexploded projectile out in the road, Islamic State rigged this nearby traffic cone with a bomb,” Whiteman said.
Numerous bomb factories were operating in Sirte during the reign of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants, who captured by the city in June of 2015. To get a rare glimpse of IS’ bomb-making setup, Whiteman met with members of a pro-government Libyan sapper battalion that had recently come upon five such facilities.
Whiteman had a chance to examine a suicide vest loaded with bolts and ball bearings that were meant to maximize its lethal impact.
“They basically strap this around the chest using this belt and, when it gets blown up, this all get scattered around everywhere… It’s really ominous seeing all this stuff up close, having been on the receiving end of it last we’ve been here,” says Whiteman. While reporting from Sirte earlier, the RT journalist was targeted by a suicide-car bomber, who was neutralized by pro-government forces seconds before he could detonate the explosive device.
As the jihadists were running out of bomb ingredients after Libyan forces cut their supply routes, the militants resorted to setting booby traps. Medical supplies, parts of household appliances, such as timers, and disassembled ammunition – everything at the jihadists’ disposal came in handy for creating simple-looking but no less effective explosive devices.
One of the sappers showed Whiteman an ordinary medical syringe that had been transformed into a bomb. A timer removed from a washing machine served to create a time bomb in another device.
“You can hear it clicking down and then it just goes off. So they just leave it in the car or somewhere, wait for the Libyan government forces to advance past – boom – it goes off, kills a lot of people,” Whiteman says, adding that although the technology is “very simple,” it is nonetheless “very effective.”
“That’s why Islamic State is so difficult to push out; they have been very advanced with their bombs.”
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that the UN-backed Libyan government is close to driving out all of the Islamic State militants left in Sirte.
“I expect that they’ll eliminate… the remaining opposition shortly,” he told journalists in London, stressing that the US air force will continue to provide support for Libyan forces until Sirte is completely recaptured.
The Libyan government’s offensive against the militants in Sirte has been underway since May of this year.