Gunmen storm Libyan hotel, 10 killed
Tripoli, Libya — In the latest sign of Libya’s descent into chaos, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel used by diplomats and businessmen in the capital on Tuesday, killing 10 people, including an American, a French citizen and three people from Eastern Europe.
Two attackers were killed following an hourslong standoff that included a car bomb that exploded in the parking lot of the seaside Corinthia Hotel. It was unclear if other gunmen were involved in the attack, which also killed five Libyan guards.
In Twitter posts and a statement on social media, a Tripoli affiliate of the Islamic State group was said to be behind the attack, but there was little evidence to back up the claims in a country that has been awash in armed extremist groups who would be equally suspect.
The SITE intelligence group reported that the two dead gunmen were identified online as sympathizers of IS and said the militants said the hotel was targeted because it houses diplomatic missions and “crusader” security companies. However, the Associated Press was unable to independently confirm the claims, which didn’t conform with the group’s earlier postings from Libya.
Militants claiming the attack on behalf of a group called the Islamic State of the Tripoli province posted a brief video showing burned cars in the hotel’s parking lot and said it was to avenge the 2013 abduction by American commandos of a Libyan al-Qaida operative, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Al-Ruqai died earlier this month in a New York hospital of complications from liver surgery while awaiting trial for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The assault highlights the growing threat from militant groups that operate with near impunity in a country torn between rival governments since the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Since Gadhafi’s ouster, the country has been torn among competing militias and tribes vying for power. Libya’s post-Gadhafi transition has collapsed, with two rival governments and parliaments — each backed by different militias — ruling in the country’s eastern and western regions.
Amid the bloody political rivalry, multiple armed groups have emerged, including radical Islamist militias who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, including one based in the eastern city of Derna, a stronghold of radical groups, as well as regional militias and groups loyal to the former regime.
Tripoli, which has been controlled by Islamist militiamen mostly from the western city of Misrata since the summer, has been hit with a series of car bombs and shootings.
The internationally recognized government has been forced to relocate to the country’s east, where a former general has waged an offensive against Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead.
A senior U.S. State Department official confirmed that a U.S. citizen was among those killed in Tuesday’s attack, but did not provide further details.
The Malta-owned Corinthia hotel is frequented by diplomats and foreign businessmen visiting Libya.
The hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests but was largely empty at the time of the attack, according to hotel staff members. There was also a visiting American delegation.