Christian war cemetery in Libya at risk from Islamist militants

Libya: Clashes are taking place in Benghazi between pro-government forces and an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels, who have joined forces with the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia.REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Recent territorial gains by the Libyan arm of Islamic State (IS) has caused concern that a Christian War memorial on the Libyan coast will be at risk from Islamist militants, the Times reports.

The graves of more than 3,600 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died fighting against the Germans and Italians in World War Two are marked at the Knightsbridge War Cemetery in Tobruk.

The cemetery is on the road to Derna, the eastern city where Islamist fighters took control in October. Over the last month local militants have also pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

The escalating Islamist violence has led to fears that they will attack the obviously Christian memorial, designated by a large white crucifix at one end of the graveyard.

The deteriorating stability of the region has meant that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is no longer able to maintain the memorial. Instead, the task has fallen to Mohamed Hanish, a 60-year-old Libyan.

Hanish's father was among the many Libyans who helped to recover the bodies from the battlefield, and their family has continued to protect them. He told the Times that he wouldn't let the militants attack the site on his watch.

"We are doing this for Libya - this is our history too. It is an honour to protect that," Hanish said.

"I'm the only person who looks at their final resting place every day," he added. "These men fought in a country that wasn't even their own for humanitarian reasons and peace. I consider them heroes."