BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Islamic State suicide bombers using an ambulance and two other vehicles targeted Libyan forces in the coastal city of Sirte on Sunday, killing at least one of them, a spokesman for militias loyal to Libya's U.N.-brokered government said.
IS took over Sirte last year, exploiting Libya's turmoil to gain a foothold in the oil-rich country. The fight to retake it is being led by militias from the western city of Misrata, which advanced into the city last week.
Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Ghasri said Sunday's attack "infiltrated our siege" on the insurgents' main stronghold in the country and targeted supply lines and medical units. At least one paramedic was killed and a dozen troops were wounded, he said.
"They aimed to shake our ranks, to force us to retreat, but we remain steadfast," al-Ghasri said. "We are determined to finish the job before the end of the holy month of Ramadan," which began June 6.
Earlier, he said the IS militants had barricaded themselves in a densely built-up area in the city center, with their snipers taking positions on rooftops waiting for the militiamen to advance. The militias have been shelling the area with artillery.
Some militants reportedly shaved off their beards to escape Sirte when the Misrata militiamen began advancing on the coastal city in tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns.
At the city's main roundabout, the militiamen last week dismantled the metal frame of what some Sirte residents had dubbed the "stage of horror" — a podium used by IS for public beheadings during its yearlong reign over the city.
Sirte was the only IS-held city outside Iraq and Syria, where the group controls vast swaths of territory and several cities and towns.
Driving IS from Libya would rid neighboring Egypt of a serious security threat just beyond its porous western border and terminate what has been a key supply route for men and weapons headed to the group's affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula. The IS presence in Libya has also been a source of concern to southern European nations, particularly Italy, Libya's former colonizer.