Reuters International

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Suspected Islamic State militants staged attacks on Thursday south of the Libyan city of Misrata, killing four people and injuring 12, officials said.

Aziz Issa, the spokesman for Misrata central hospital, said two members of the local security forces had been killed and 12 wounded in an attack on a checkpoint at Abu Grain, about 140 km (85 miles) west of the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte.

Separately, militants carried out a bomb attack in Baghla, to the south, a local official and a resident said. The official, from the nearby town of Bani Walid, said two people were killed in the bombing.

There were unconfirmed reports that Islamic State fighters had forced local brigades to retreat and were holding territory around Abu Grain and to the south west, at Wadi Zamzam.

Islamic State militants regularly venture across the main road leading south from Misrata, and have carried out raids and attacks in the area before, including against checkpoints manned by brigades from Misrata.

The attacks on Thursday came as military forces in eastern Libya said they were preparing for a campaign to recapture Sirte.

There have also been reports that Misrata brigades were mobilising to advance against Islamic State, and pictures posted on social media last week showed convoys of dozens of vehicles on the road south from Misrata.

Islamic State took advantage of Libya's security vacuum and political turmoil to establish itself in Sirte in 2015. It controls a strip of coast about 250 km (155 miles) long around the city.

The group has staged attacks in several other Libyan towns and cities but has struggled to win more support and territory, suffering setbacks in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna, and in western Sabratha.

A U.N.-backed unity government arrived just over a month ago in Tripoli has urged armed factions to hold back from attacking Sirte until a unified military command is created.

The unity government is trying to bridge the divide between Libya's competing armed factions and two rival administrations that have operated in Tripoli and the east since 2014.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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