Reporting from the front line, RT’s William Whiteman tracked signs left by Islamic State’s long grip on the city of Sirte in Libya. A mosque from a propaganda video and a shore where a mass execution occurred now serve as eerie reminders of atrocities.
While Libyan government forces still battle Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants in other parts of the city, the liberated neighborhoods bear the marks of prolonged IS rule. Some huge IS murals remain visible on the walls, while others have already been painted over.
Devastation can be seen everywhere in the totally abandoned area, where a tank destroyed in one of more than a hundred American airstrikes, which have been targeting the jihadists in and around Sirte since August, can be seen in the street.
“So just here behind me, you can see this is an Islamic State tank that was hit by an American airstrike. The videos of it have been released on the internet,” reports Whiteman.
RT’s crew was one of the first to film the freshly-liberated places in Sirte that served as a backdrop for slick and brutal jihadist propaganda videos, which are still one of Islamic State’s most effective and far-reaching recruitment tools.
The Rabat Mosque in downtown Sirte that appears in many well-known IS videos has now been taken by Libyan government troops, and the very same Koran featured in one of the clips is still there.
“He sat right here, reading from this Koran. In the ‘famed’ Islamic State high quality propaganda video. But yeah, it’s right here in this mosque,” Whiteman says.
“We’re 500 meters from the front,” he notes.
A five minute video showing 21 Egyptian Christians dressed in orange being beheaded by jihadist executioners clad in black – arguably one of IS’ most haunting pieces – was shot at the seaside in Sirte.
The Copts had been working in Sirte prior to being taken hostage. They were held in a small underground prison, which was shown to Whiteman by a local police officer.
“So there’s absolutely no daylight in here. There are no windows, nothing. It’s hot – as you can see, I’m sweating. It would have been nightmarish to have been stuck in here, waiting for your fate. Horrible if you think about it,” he says, after describing one of the cells in which the captives were held up until their slaughter on a stretch of the beach.
Outside the prison, an officer picked up a long rusted machete that had been abandoned as IS militants were fleeing the city. It appeared to be covered in human blood.
“It’s not one of the ones used in the video, but I mean yeah, it looks like it’s got blood on it. I don’t know, if I hold it closer, you can see it looks like it’s been used, it’s not been cleaned,” Whiteman says.
Sirte became an Islamic State stronghold in Libya after the terrorist group took control of the city in June of 2015. The jihadists have now been almost completely driven out by troops of Libya’s new UN-backed government, which launched an offensive in May of this year with the help of US airstrikes. The Pentagon estimated last week that only three neighborhoods in Sirte are still controlled by Islamic State jihadists.