Nine killed as gunmen storm luxury hotel in Libyan capital

Militants with links to Islamic State claim responsibility for attack

 The Corinthia Hotel  in Tripoli, Libya. Photograph: EPA

The Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya. Photograph: EPA

 

Heavily armed gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Tripoli favoured by Libyan officials and visiting delegations on Tuesday, killing at least nine people, including foreigners, before blowing themselves up with a grenade.

Officials said shooting broke out inside the five-star Corinthia Hotel and security forces moved guests, including Tripoli’s prime minister and an American delegation, after at least two gunmen blasted through the building’s reception.

It was one of the worst assaults targeting foreigners since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gadafy and fractured the oil-producing North African state into fiefdoms of rival armed groups with two national governments, both claiming legitimacy.

Militants claiming ties with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said in a Twitter message they were responsible for the attack, which they said was revenge for the death in the United States of a suspected Libyan al-Qaeda operative, according to the SITE monitoring service.

But Tripoli officials who have set up their own self-proclaimed government blamed Gadafy loyalists bent on killing their prime minister, who was at the hotel, and said he was rescued without injury.

“The attackers opened fire inside the hotel,” said Omar Khadrawi, head of Tripoli security. “When the attackers were completely surrounded by the security forces, one of them detonated a grenade, but we don’t know if it was deliberate.”

Tripoli security spokesman Essam Naas said later an American and a French man were among five foreigners killed. He said the other foreigners who died at the hotel were Asian but gave no nationalities.

The American who was killed was a security contractor working for Virginia-based Crucible LLC, said Alan John, an executive of the company. He said the name of the contractor was not being released at this time and gave no other details.

A security officer was also killed in the clashes and three guards died when the attackers set off a car bomb in the car park outside the hotel.

Most foreign governments closed their embassies and pulled staff out of Tripoli after factional fighting erupted in the capital last summer. But some diplomats, business and trade delegations still visit the capital.

Envoys from the United Nations, which is holding talks in Geneva with some of Libya’s warring parties to try to end hostilities, have also been in Tripoli.

Libya is caught in a conflict between the two rival factions, one allied with the internationally recognised government, the other with “Libya Dawn” forces who took over Tripoli in the summer and set up their own government.

But in Libya’s post-revolution chaos, armed groups, from brigades of former rebels to federalist fighters and Islamist militants, have grown in power and control more territory.

Islamist militants, including those who claim loyalty to Islamic State, operate in pockets of Libya, especially eastern Benghazi and Derna. Recently, they claimed to have kidnapped two Tunisian journalists, and groups of Egyptians.

Foreigners and embassies have also been targeted in shootings, kidnappings and bombings in the past.

In 2012, militants attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, killing the US ambassador and three other Americans. US officials blamed a Libyan Islamist group, Ansar al Sharia, for orchestrating that attack.

The Corinthia, a luxury high-rise overlooking the capital’s coastline, is frequently used by top government and foreign delegations. In 2013, the then-Libyan prime minister was briefly abducted from the hotel by former rebels on the state payroll.

Reuters