Sirte in Libya
Fighters from Misrata move towards positions of Isis militants, near Sirte March 15, 2015.Reuters

While Russian fighter bombers are concentrating on decimating Raqqa as Isis headquarters in Syria, little attention is being paid to Isis creating a second stronghold, a back-up capital as it were, on the edges of Western civilisation in the key Libyan city of Sirte.

Sirte, on Libya's northwestern Mediterranean coast, is less than 400 miles away from the Italian island of Sicily. Isis jihadists took control of Sirte in early 2015 and the New York Times recently described it as an "actively managed colony of the central Islamic State, crowded with foreign fighters from around the region."

Sirte is being groomed to become the Isis capital in North Africa, according to reports emerging from various quarters.

Isis recently stated in its English mouthpiece Dabiq that Sirte would be used to disrupt Europe on the economic and security fronts. Isis in Libya vowed in Dabiq that "the control of Islamic State over this region will lead to economic breakdowns especially for Italy and the rest of the European states."

Isis has drawn into its fold jihadists that used to work with smaller militias like the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia.  Since February 2015, Isis has increased its area of influence with around 125 miles of territory along the Libyan coast under its control, according to one expert estimate.

Sirte is also part of the Isis game plan to capitalise upon a secondary source of oil, given that Isis illegal oil supply lines via Turkey are being bombed to bits by the Russians.

Libya has the ninth-largest proven oil reserves in the world, according to the US Department of Energy, and about 80% of Libya's accessible oil is located in the Sirte basin.

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, Isis as yet has no access to the oil wealth in Sirte and the city itself suffers from scarcities in power and gas, but the Isis objective is to get to where the oil lies and commandeer it.  Libya provided 11% of Europe's oil needs before the 2011 uprising that deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. 

Isis presence in Sirte has grown over the past year from 200 eager fighters to a roughly 5,000-strong contingent which includes administrators and financiers, according to estimates by Libyan intelligence officials, the Wall Street Journal said.