, TRIPOLI, Libya, Jan 28 – Gunmen stormed a luxury Tripoli hotel 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.
The assault on such a high-profile target underlined the fragile security situation in the Libyan capital, which is controlled by a patchwork of militias allied with one of two governments claiming to rule the country.
And if it is confirmed that it was carried out by Islamic State militants it would highlight the growing reach of an extremist group with ambitions to spread its influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
After setting off a car bomb outside the opulent Corinthia Hotel – where visiting world leaders have met local dignitaries in the past – 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.
The head of Libya’s self-declared government, Omar al-Hassi, was inside the hotel at the time but was evacuated safely, Naass 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.
Government officials in Washington and Paris confirmed the US and French deaths, with the American named by his company as a security contractor.
At least five people were also wounded, including two Filipina employees hurt by broken glass from the car bomb, Naass 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.