In the latest sign of Libya’s descent into chaos, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel used by diplomats and businessmen in the capital Tuesday, killing 10 people, including an American, a French citizen and three people from Asia.
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.
Twitter posts and a statement on social media purported to say a Tripoli affiliate of the Islamic State group was behind the attack. However, there was little evidence outside of that to back up the claims in a country awash in armed extremist groups who would be equally suspect.
The SITE Intelligence Group, a US-based militant monitoring group, reported that the two dead gunmen were identified online as sympathizers of the Islamic State group and said they targeted the hotel 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-Libi died earlier this month in a New York hospital of complications from liver surgery while awaiting trial for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The hotel assault highlights the growing threat from militant groups that operate with near impunity in Libya, a country torn between rival governments, tribes and militias since the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country’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 Islamic militias who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, including one based in the eastern city of Derna, a stronghold of radical groups.