Tuesday, January 27, 2015 10:15 pm
Gunmen stormed a hotel in Tripoli popular with diplomats and officials Tuesday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group, killing at least nine people, including five foreigners, before blowing themselves up.
After setting off a car bomb outside the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Libya’s capital, three militants rushed inside and opened fire, Issam al-Naass, a security services spokesman, told AFP.
They made it to the 24th floor of the hotel, a major hub of diplomatic and government activity, before being surrounded by security forces and detonating explosive belts they were wearing, he said.
The dead included three security guards killed in the initial attack, five foreigners shot dead by the gunmen and a hostage who died when the attackers blew themselves up.
Naass said the foreigners killed were an American, two Filipinas, a French citizen and a South Korean. He did not give their identities.
At least five people were also wounded during the assault, including two Filipina employees hurt by broken glass from the car bomb, he said.
The nationalities of the hostage who died was not immediately known.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said earlier there was a report of an American having been killed, but that it could not be confirmed
“This attack cannot be allowed to impede the critical work that is underway to find a political solution” in Libya, she said.
The hotel’s 24th floor is normally used by Qatar’s mission to Libya, but no diplomats or officials were present during the assault, a security source said.
The head of Libya’s self-declared government, Omar al-Hassi, was inside the hotel at the time of the attack but was evacuated safely, Naass said.
– Claim of assassination attempt –
In a statement on Twitter, the Tripoli branch of the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
It said the attack was in honour of Abu Anas al-Libi, an Al-Qaeda suspect who died in the United States earlier this month, days before facing a trial for bombing US embassies.
A video posted on jihadist forums showed an image of one of the alleged perpetrators.
Several militant groups in Libya have pledged allegiance to IS, the Sunni extremist organisation that has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.
Security forces loyal to Hassi’s government, which is jostling for power with the internationally backed authority of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, surrounded the building during the assault.
The government in Tripoli said Tuesday’s attack was an assassination attempt on Hassi it blamed on “enemies of the revolution and the war criminal Khalifa Haftar”, a former general who last year spearheaded an operation against Islamist militias in second city Benghazi.
Ambulances, armoured vehicles and pick-up trucks with mounted artillery could be seen around the hotel during the assault.
Security forces prevented journalists from entering the hotel after the assault, saying work was needed inside to ensure the assailants had not left behind booby traps.