Libya Islamists Seen Capturing Oil Field in Funds Quest

The hard-line Islamist militia that captured an oil field in central Libya is seeking an independent source of funds, said Mahmoud Jibril, leader of one of the North African nation’s biggest political parties.

“They are seeking a source of financing,” Jibril, the leader of the National Forces Alliance, said Wednesday by phone from Cairo. “The same happened in Iraq and Syria,” he said, referring to the seizure by Islamic State militants of oil fields in those Middle Eastern countries.

The militia that captured the Al-Mabruk field Tuesday is a local branch of Islamic State, Ali al-Hasy, a spokesman of the national Petroleum Facilities Guard, said by phone. The field, operated by Total SA as part of a joint venture with Libya’s state-run National Oil Corp., has been idle since Dec. 15 after an Islamist attack shut Es Sider, the country’s largest oil port and the export terminal for crude from Al-Mabruk. Six guards were killed in another attack Tuesday at Es Sider and there was no damage at the port, al-Hasy said.

Islamic State, the group that burned alive a Jordanian pilot, says it’s punishing countries that joined the U.S.-led campaign to crush it.

National Oil’s spokesman, Mohamed Elharari, confirmed that gunmen stormed the field Tuesday, without identifying them. The attackers are holding three hostages, none of them French or employees of Total, a spokeswoman for the France-based company said. National Oil said on its website the workers evacuated the field and were safe.

Force Majeure

Libya, which holds Africa’s largest oil reserves, has been split since last summer between the internationally recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni and the administration of Omar al-Hassi, who has the backing of Islamist militias that seized the capital Tripoli in July. The city’s capture forced al-Thinni’s government to relocate to the country’s eastern region.

Islamist militias made a fresh attempt Tuesday to seize Es Sider, where most of the storage tanks were damaged or put out of operation by the attacks in December, according to al-Hasy. Authorities declared force majeure that month at Es Sider and the neighboring Ras Lanuf export terminal. Force majeure is a legal step that protects a company from liability when it can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control.

Libya last month produced 300,000 barrels a day of crude, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s about a fifth of what it pumped before the 2011 rebellion that ended Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Jibril, the National Forces Alliance leader, participated in the rebellion as interim prime minister. His party has lawmakers serving in the internationally recognized House of Representatives. “This situation is also the result of the abandonment of Libya by the international community,” he said.

(Corrects length of Qaddafi’s rule in eighth paragraph of story originally published Feb. 4.)
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