'Islamic State could expand from Libya but faces hostile environment'

Libya`s collapse after the death of dictator Moamer Kadhafi has made it an ideal stomping ground for IS.

'Islamic State could expand from Libya but faces hostile environment'

Paris: The Islamic State group has built a base in Libya from which to exploit tribal conflicts and expand across Africa, though experts say the jihadists remain vulnerable even if the West`s attention is elsewhere.

Libya`s collapse into a chaotic mess of competing militias since the overthrow and death of dictator Moamer Kadhafi has made it an ideal stomping ground for IS.

IS jihadists gradually built up control of several towns that were of minimal interest to other militias, most notably Kadhafi`s coastal home town of Sirte, east of Tripoli.

Libya not only offers an alternative base if the group is forced out of Syria and Iraq, experts fear it could also take advantage of tribal conflicts to expand south into the Sahel desert region of central Africa, particularly Chad, Niger and Sudan. 

"IS is provoking tensions and making alliances," particularly between the competing Tuareg and Toubou tribes, said Kader Abderrahim of the Institute of Strategic and International Relations in Paris. 

For now, IS has only a limited foothold in Libya, but it is enough to project violence into neighbouring countries, particularly Tunisia where the group has claimed three attacks this year. 

"Tunisia is the most threatened," said Abderrahim. "The terrorists cannot accept the idea of a functioning democracy just a few dozen kilometres away."

Libya also lies just 500 miles (800 kilometres) across the Mediterranean from Italy, and is a route for thousands of refugees -- another weakness IS could exploit.