ISIS released still pictures purporting to show massive parade of their militants in the city of Sirte, Libya
Why is ISIS heading to Libya?
02:30 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Human Rights Watch says people in Sirte, Libya, live in constant fear

More than two-thirds of the city's residents have fled, the group says

Of those executed, two were publicly beheaded for "sorcery"

CNN  — 

Public beheadings. Corpses hanging from scaffolding. Floggings for violating the law.

This is life in the ISIS-held city of Sirte, Libya – a Mediterranean coastal city that’s about 350 miles away from Malta – according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

Many of the 45 former and current residents of Sirte Human Rights Watch spoke to say they live in a continued state of fear.

“As if beheading and shooting perceived enemies isn’t enough, ISIS is causing terrible suffering in Sirte even for Muslims who follow its rules,” said Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“While the world’s attention is focused on atrocities in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is also getting away with murder in Libya.”

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Public killings

Since February 2015, the Sunni terror group has “executed” 49 people, the report says.

That number includes the 21 Coptic Christians that ISIS beheaded last year.

Two elderly men who were accused of “sorcery” were publicly beheaded in October, the report said.

“They encouraged people to watch,” one resident told Human Rights Watch. “When the big man [the executioner] finished the job he raised the head for the crowd to see.”

ISIS released a video of the purported incident online.

Many of those executed publicly were shot in the head, and those that were accused of being “spies” were killed and then dangled from scaffolding for a couple of days.

The group even has a “kill list” of 130 names of its supposed enemies that sits in the Sirte courthouse, according to the report. Many on the list have been killed in drive-by shootings.

Symbolism in Sirte

Much of the chaos that’s engulfed Libya can be traced back to recent events in Sirte.

The city was the home of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

That’s also where he was killed in 2011, the year his regime collapsed.

ISIS has gained a foothold in the country due to a power vacuum that hasn’t been filled since collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime collapsed in 2011.

Libya Fast Facts

At first there were hopes that the country would follow a more democratic path like its western neighbor, Tunisia.

But warring factions soon split over how to run the country, and civil war ensued. Two rival governments claimed to be the rightful leaders of the country before signing a U.N.-backed peace deal in December.

As those sides and local militias jostled for power, ISIS saw an opportunity to claim territory for itself.

U.S. officials estimate there are about 4,000 to 6,000 ISIS militants in the country.

The Pentagon is providing additional resources to counter ISIS in Libya, according to a U.S. defense official familiar with the operation.

The effort, which has been underway since late last year, involves sending in small teams of troops to try to establish relationships with groups that may be able to form a new nationwide government.

‘Spies on every street’

The Human Rights Watch report describes life in Sirte as similarly brutal as accounts coming out of other ISIS strongholds like Raqqa in Syria or Mosul in Iraq.

The terror group has diverted food, medicine, fuel and cash to its members and seized homes from residents who fled, Human Rights Watch says.

“There are no vegetables or meat. Most shops are closed,” one resident told Human Rights Watch in an interview. “Meanwhile the Daesh [ISIS] is living in our houses and having barbeques.”

All banks have been shut but one, and only ISIS members can use it. Communication with outside world can only be achieved through ISIS-run call centers.

And the group has been accused of looting and destroying homes of those it thinks are enemies.

“There are spies on every street,” another resident told the humanitarian group.

More than two thirds of Sirte’s 80,000 residents have fled, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We need help – we have no more food or housing to host the people fleeing the fighting,” the mayor of nearby Misrata, Mohamed Eshtewi, said.

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.