The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) forced nurses to treat its fighters in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte and provided them with courses in nursing and emergency care, a Filipina nurse said Monday.
The group occupied the hometown of deposed dictator Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi for more than a year, before militias allied to the U.N.-backed government in Libya ousted the group in December after a month-long battle.
In Sirte’s recapture, authorities freed the nurse and six other women, some of whom were medical colleagues, alongside a man and a 10-month-old child.
The Filipino nurses were already working in the Libyan city when ISIS overran the coastal hub in June 2015.
The radical militants imprisoned the nurses, but upon discovering they were Muslim, released them on condition that they reside in the city’s main hospital to provide medical care and teaching to wounded fighters. This included basic measures on how to give first-aid to their fellow jihadists, according to the unidentified medical worker.
“When they found out we were Muslim they released us but under a strict condition that we will have to work as nurses in their hospital and we had to train ISIS on emergency care and nursing course,” the nurse told reporters in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, Reuters reported.
“It was a horrible time. Each day we lived in fear. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. And they threatened to kill us if we left Sirte.”
ISIS held several foreign hostages in the city, where it had imposed its brutal brand of ultra conservative Islam, hanging residents from lampposts, lashing and crucifying dissenters and imposing extortionate taxes on the population it controlled to instil an environment of fear. It also killed Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans as the battle for the city raged. Libyan forces say they freed at least five other foreign hostages: two Turkish nationals, two Indians and one Bangladeshi.
The extremist group capitalized on the five years of instability in Libya after the NATO-led ousting of Qaddafi in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring. But several opposing forces have since beaten the group back in what had become its North African hub outside of its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
While militias allied to the Tripoli-based, U.N.-backed government fight the group, so to are the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who presides over what he calls the Libyan National Army, a fighting force allied to a rival government in eastern Libya.
The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes against the group near the western Libyan town of Sabratha, where it has established training camps in close proximity to the porous Tunisian border. French and British special forces have also been reported to operate in the country, aiding the different factions fighting ISIS.