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US Sanctions Islamist Leader Vying for Power in Libya

  • Lou Lorscheider

FILE - This image released by the media office of the unity government shows Fayez al-Sarraj, right, upon his arrival in Tripoli, Libya, March 30, 2016. He arrived by sea with six deputies to set up a temporary seat of power in a naval base.

FILE - This image released by the media office of the unity government shows Fayez al-Sarraj, right, upon his arrival in Tripoli, Libya, March 30, 2016. He arrived by sea with six deputies to set up a temporary seat of power in a naval base.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the head of Libya's Islamist government in Tripoli, after accusing him of attempts to undermine the new United Nations-brokered unity government seeking to gain a foothold in the war-ravaged country.

The sanctions target Khalifa Ghweil, head of the so-called National Salvation government, which the Obama administration has described as "an unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S. security and diplomatic interests.

The U.S. Treasury Department penalties bar Americans from doing business with Ghweil and they freeze his holdings in U.S. jurisdictions.

The international community sees the new Government of National Accord, the GNA, and its presumptive leader, Fayez al-Sarraj, as Libya's best hope for stability in an otherwise chaotic country of 6.2 million residents.

Sarraj and other key members of the national unity government were smuggled by Western operatives into Libyan territory by sea earlier this year, with broad European and U.S. backing.

Diplomats had voiced hopes that Ghweil's Islamists would join with another government based in the coastal city of Tobruk to back the unity government in a fight against Islamic State extremists who control the central city of Sirte.

However, efforts to get the unity government up and running have not shown much progress. Ghweil's Islamists oppose it, and the rival governing body in Tobruk, which earlier promised to back the GNA, on Monday postponed a vote to do so.

The French news agency AFP quoted officials in Tobruk, who said the vote was postponed over "major differences." The report did not elaborate.

Libya has been mired in chaos and extended violence since the 2011 ouster and killing of former leader Moammar Gadhafi. Many diplomats and activists have described post-Gadhafi Libya as one of the most unstable countries in the world.

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