The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) released images of a wheelchair-bound executioner purporting to crucify an alleged spy in the central Libyan city of Sirte late Tuesday.
The images, marked by the official logo of ISIS’s Wilayat Tarabulus (province of Tripoli) in which Sirte is located, are captioned with the words “the execution of spies in the city of Sirte” and show the murder of three accused spies.
Two of the accused are shown lying lifeless on the ground while another bloodied man is shown strung up by rope on a wooden structure, with the word “spy” attached to his abdomen to identify him.
However, no militant is shown carrying out the crucifixion and it is unclear if the man in the wheelchair is actually incapacitated, as ISIS regularly stages propaganda acts for shock value.The wheelchair-bound militant sits next to the alleged spy, kneeling before he is crucified, in front of an ISIS flag.
ISIS does not identify the three men in the images and the other pictures are too graphic for publication.
The group published the images in what appears to be an attempt to consolidate its hold over the former hometown of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi amid a series of attacks against the radical Islamist group.
“This is most likely linked to the series of anti-ISIS attacks we saw during the past week, ISIS is retaliating and using scare tactics,” says Michael Horowitz, analyst at the Tel Aviv-based risk consultancy The Levantine Group, adding that the incapacitated man may have been a victim of an anti-ISIS attack.
Reports have emerged that the radical Islamist group has suffered a number of assassinations by unknown gunmen in the city, including ISIS commander Abdullah Hamad al-Ansari on January 23, based on unconfirmed social media reports from the city.
ISIS is now estimated to have some 3,000 fighters in the city, capitalizing on the five years of instability in Libya after the NATO-led ousting of Gaddafi in 2011, and is implementing the same strategy of fear over the coastal city’s population that had success in the Syrian city of Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Sirte represents the group’s only territorial hold in Libya, after it was beaten back in the eastern city of Derna by rival militias in June 2015. To tighten its control over the city amid rebellions in August, the group hung four residents from lampposts and beheaded at least 12 people, according to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya. It is the same location where it kidnapped Coptic Egyptians before executing them on the Mediterranean coast in a gruesome video in February 2015.
The group’s growth in Libya has forced the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria to divert its attention to North Africa, with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmation last week that the Pentagon is “developing options” for potential action against ISIS in its North African extension of its self-proclaimed caliphate.