ISIS in Libya is not only taking advantage of a political vacuum by expanding throughout the country with “relative ease,” but also has “booming” financial resources, according to United Nations officials.
Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative to Libya, warned the Security Council on Wednesday that the lack of political structure is risking “division and collapse” of the country while criminal networks and terrorist groups establish “deep roots.”
“Daesh takes advantage of the political and security vacuum and is expanding to the West, East and to the South,” Kobler told the Security Council, using another name for ISIS. “While Libya’s financial resources are dwindling, the criminal networks, including human smuggling, are booming.”
The process toward a democratic government since the toppling of long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi five years ago “remains precarious,” Kobler said, telling journalists after the meeting that the “political process is slow like a snail.”
Kobler was optimistic that a majority of Libyans support the formation of a Government of National Accord, but added that there are some parties that “pursue their own narrow political interests.”
When it came time for the House of Representatives to vote on a list of Cabinet candidates last month, the meeting was interrupted by a “minority of parliamentarians who opposed the vote and resorted to threats and intimidation” to prevent it, Kobler said.
With a fragile, developing government and a fragmented security system, ISIS militants have been able to build up infrastructure in multiple locations in the country, which sits just a few hundred miles from Europe across the Mediterranean.
In December, ISIS “held a parade of more than 30 vehicles” through the coastal city of Sabratha in northwestern Libya and “temporarily established checkpoints in the southern part of the city,” according to a U.N. report by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued last week.
The United States targeted that city with an airstrike in February, killing at least 10 people and wounding at least a dozen more.
Clashes escalated between local security forces and armed groups in the town as they sought to push ISIS out, Kobler told the Security Council on Wednesday.
Another region that worries officials is Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown, where ISIS has managed to control a strip of land more than 250 kilometers, according to the U.N. report.
In that region, ISIS has been able to establish infrastructure like training camps, storage areas, fortification and “rudimentary institutions of governance referred to as ‘Islamic courts’ and ‘Islamic Police,’” the report says.
Kobler warned that without a solid footing for a Libyan government to ward off ISIS, Libya’s neighbors could be shaken and have already been directly affected.
“Daesh in Libya constitutes an urgent and growing threat to Libya, the region and beyond,” Kobler said.
“Progress towards resuming Libya’s democratic transition is also a critical factor in the fight against the forces of terrorism,” Ban wrote in his February report.
“The relative ease with which groups such as ISIL have expanded their spheres of control and influence over the past few months is a matter of grave concern,” he added.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.