09 March 2015, News Wires – Up to nine foreign workers are reported to be missing after an attack by Islamic State (IS) militants on a Libya oilfield in the latest in a string of assaults aimed at destroying the strife-torn North African country’s key oil facilities.
A Czech national and an Austrian worker, as well as seven others from Bangladesh and the Philippines, are believed to have been taken hostage following the armed attack on the Al-Ghani field south of Sirte last Friday, Reuters reported.
“We are examining the possibility that a kidnapping has taken place,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek was quoted as saying.
Libya’s oil security forces have subsequently retaken control of the oilfield after militants believed to be from the local affiliate of IS attacked the facility and killed 11 guards, several of whom were beheaded, a Libyan official said.
Austria’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it had no contact with the missing men and named their employer as Austrian contractor VAOS Oil Service, according to the Associated Press.
Zaoralek said there had been no contact with any group claiming responsibility, adding that his ministry was certain the Czech citizen had not been killed during the attack.
Four Filipinos are among those that have disappeared, bringing the total number of Filipino workers missing in Libya to seven after three were snatched in another oilfield attack last month, with their whereabouts still unknown.
A spokesman for the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs told AP that operations at the Al-Ghani field had been suspended two weeks prior to the attack and most of the workers had left by the time the gunmen arrived there.
Militants this month also stormed and damaged several Libyan oilfields around Al-Ghani, forcing the government to declare force majeure, pull out workers and shut down production at 11 oilfields in the central Sirte basin.
Storage tanks, a control room and a drilling rig at the Mabruk field are now reported to be out of action after the latest round of strikes, according to an official there. It could take up to a year for production to return to normal, the official said.
A spokesman for Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it was impossible to say when production from the field could restart as no one can enter the area.
An NOC spokesman said the fate of the missing workers was still not known.
The fields attacked in Sirte account for about a third of the country’s daily production capacity of 1.5 million barrels.
The latest attacks point to a shift in strategy by IS militants to destroy oilfield installations to cut off state revenue as they lack the strength and capability to capture and use the facilities for their own benefit, according to Geoff Porter, an assistant professor with the US’ Combating Terror Center at the West Point military academy.
Western and Libyan security officials said IS is hoping to raise fresh funds by kidnapping foreign oil workers.
New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia Group said: “We expect jihadist attacks on the oil infrastructure to intensify over the next several weeks and to inflict damage.”
A power vacuum in Libya, where two rival governments are battling for control of the country, has given rise to an upsurge in Islamic terrorism.
The country is now divided between Libya Dawn, the Islamist militia that controls the capital Tripoli, and its rivals in the eastern city of Tobruk.
UN-backed talks to form a unity government and a lasting ceasefire in Libya are continuing in Morocco.
However, both sides face internal splits over the negotiations and fighting between the two governments continues.