New ISIS leader in Libya says group 'stronger every day'

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The Rise of Islamic State in Libya

TRIPOLI (Reuters) -- A senior Islamic State militant has said in an interview identifying him as the new leader of the jihadists' Libyan offshoot that the extremist organization is getting "stronger every day" in the north African country.

Abdul Qadr al-Najdi, described in an interview released by the SITE monitoring group on Thursday as "the emir tasked with administering the Libyan provinces," said he was praying for Libya to be made the "vanguard of the Caliphate."

He also warned neighboring countries that they would not be able to defend themselves from the militants.

"You are protecting yourself from the detonators with shields of bamboo, and from the flood with a ring of wood," he said, in the interview in the Islamic State publication al-Naba.

Tunisia, where more than 50 people died in an assault by Islamists near the Libyan border this week, has just completed a trench and barrier on its southern frontier in an effort to stop militants crossing.

Islamic State has taken advantage of the political chaos and security vacuum following the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi to establish a presence in several cities. Western officials have expressed alarm over the expansion and estimates the number of its fighters to be as high as 6,000.

Last year it took full control of the eastern city of Sirte and the surrounding coastline. That had proved easier than expanding elsewhere in Libya, where "the number of factions and their disputes" was one reason for failure, Nadji said.

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New ISIS leader in Libya says group 'stronger every day'
A civilian woman carries her child during a battle with Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
Civilians walk past Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) during a battle with Islamic State militants, east of Mosul, Iraq, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
A displaced man, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, carries a woman in the Mithaq district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants in the Mithaq district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
An Iraqi soldier is seen during a battle with Islamic State militants, north of Mosul, Iraq, December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
Iraqi people flee the Islamic State stronghold in the town of Bartella, east of Mosul, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Iraqi people flee the Islamic State stronghold in the town of Bartella, east of Mosul, December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Iraqi rapid response forces cook food in their headquarters during the war against the Islamic state militants east of Mosul, Iraq, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
Mohammad Hassan, whose hand was chopped off by Islamic State militants, sits outside a house at Nimrud village, south of Mosul, Iraq, December 13, 2016. Picture taken December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Displaced Iraqi boys, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, warm themselves by a fire in Khazer camp, Iraq,December 15, 2016.REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Displaced Iraqi woman, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, bids her relatives farewell as she leave Khazer camp to go home, Iraq December 10, 2016.REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Iraqi Christians come to visit the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An Iraqi father (L) mourns the death of his son, who was killed during clashes in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, in al-Samah neighborhood, Iraq December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
An Iraqi girl, who was wounded during clashes in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, lies on a bed at a field hospital in al-Samah neighborhood, Iraq December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Displaced people who fled the clashes transfer to camps during a battle with Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 30, 2016 REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) gestures in military vehicle during a battle with Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 30, 2016 REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man gestures as other men sit on the ground as an Iraqi Special forces intelligence team check their ID cards as they search for Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Two men hold hands as an Iraqi Special forces intelligence team searches for Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters are seen in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Boys stand in front of oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
Civilians flee fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants at the airport of Tal Afar west of Mosul, Iraq November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Shi'ite fighters carries a weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants at the airport of Tal Afar west of Mosul, Iraq November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A displaced woman from the outskirts of Mosul covers herself in a blanket in the town of Bashiqa, after it was recaptured from the Islamic State, east of Mosul, Iraq, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
A girl attends classes after the city was recaptured from the Islamic State militants in Qayyara, Iraq, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
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Islamic State militants were mostly pushed out of the eastern city of Derna by rival Islamist factions in June, and has been targeted by local security forces in the western city of Sabratha following a U.S. air strike on a suspected training camp in February.

Najdi described Islamic State in Libya as "still young" but said it was making progress in imposing religious law in areas under its control, in line with its actions in Iraq and Syria.

"The provinces of Libya have become the destination of the mujahideen and a sanctuary for the oppressed," he said.

"The numbers of immigrants multiplied from all areas despite the ardent attempts by the West to prevent their immigration."

Najdi said the Libyan province was "in constant communication" with central offices in Iraq and Syria, where the group took swathes of territory in 2014 but has since come under increasing pressure from air strikes and local forces.

A U.S. air strike in a suburb of Derna in November killed Islamic State's previous leader in Libya, known as Abu Nabil.

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