A Libyan court has sentenced 23 jihadists to death and 14 to life in prison after they were convicted of fighting with the Islamic State group. This was the first group of 320 alleged IS jihadists to be tried and sentenced. The accused were Palestinian, Sudanese, and Libyan. They had been in custody since December 2016 and were convicted of joining a terrorist group, as well as murder. The court found nine others guilty of those same charges and sentenced them to terms of between three and 12 years in prison, while five were acquitted. In addition, the court sentenced three minors to 10 years in prison each.
IS had captured the central coast city of Sirte in 2015, setting up a stronghold before being driven out the following year by forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord in power at the time. Relatives of those killed in the Sirte battle filled the packed courtroom as the suspects appeared in the dock clad in blue prison overalls, bearded and with shaven heads. When the verdicts were read, cries of joy and applause filled the room along with shouts of, “God is greatest” and, “The blood of the martyrs has not been spilled in vain”.
Libya was plunged into more than a decade of chaos and lawlessness following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that led to the removal and killing of longtime dictator Kadhafi. Dozens of militias and jihadist groups took advantage of the power vacuum. IS set up base in Sirte and the eastern town of Derna before being driven out with the help of US-led air strikes.