Gunmen armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades have killed two employees of Libya’s National Oil Corporation in an attack on the company’s headquarters in Tripoli.
The armed assault began at 9am with intense shooting, explosions inside the building and a number of staff temporarily held hostage, NOC said in a statement on Monday.
The attack targeted an institution at the heart of Libya’s economy and exacerbated concerns about rising insecurity in a country where tensions are growing between militias and rival governments in the east and west.
NOC is the chief partner of international oil companies such as Italy’s Eni and OMV of Austria that are working across the country. It is the only institution in the country allowed to export oil under UN Security Council regulations.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion is likely to turn to Islamic State, also known as Isis, which staged a suicide attack in May against the country’s electoral commission that killed more than a dozen people.
The company said 10 employees were injured and had been evacuated to hospital for treatment.
Mustafa Sanalla, NOC chairman, was inside the building at the time of the attack and was evacuated to safety.
He said: “We solemnly mourn the death of those martyred by the terrorists and wish a speedy recovery to those injured. We praise our staff for their bravery in the face of unbelievable violence, and give thanks to the swift response of the emergency services and the security teams working to end this horrific situation.”
Ghassan Salamé, the UN's envoy for Libya, warned last week that the political vacuum in the country was allowing Isis to expand its operations. He said the group's presence and operations in the country were spreading.
Even before the attack, the situation in Tripoli was already tense after days of fighting between militias that ended only a week ago after Mr Salamé negotiated a ceasefire that is still seen as fragile.
International efforts to reach a political settlement in Libya have repeatedly foundered.
The UN-backed government in Tripoli is struggling to impose its authority while the east of the country is dominated by Khalifa Haftar, a militaryman who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army. Mr Haftar refuses to recognise the government in Tripoli.
The state-owned oil company has overseen an increase in output this year reaching almost 1m barrels a day, the highest since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammer Gadafy, the dictator who ruled for 40 years.
But the country’s oil output remains vulnerable to competing militias, who have used oilfields and export facilities as political bargaining chips, and to power cuts and wider unrest.
The majority of Libya’s oil exports were shut off for a brief period in July after fighting at oil ports in the east of the country.
Security forces are now in control of the building after the death of all the attackers, Wissam Al-Messmari, a manager for the Petroleum Facilities Guard, told Bloomberg. One gunman was killed by security forces and the rest blew themselves up, he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018