Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rebels Attack Hotel in Libyan Capital
Authorities say five foreigners and three guards dead in attack claimed by Tripoli branch of Islamic State

Tuesday 27 January 2015 08.38 EST

Gunmen have stormed a luxury hotel in Libya’s capital, killing at least five foreigners and three guards, authorities said.

The attack, which included a car bombing, struck the Corinthia hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean sea. In a brief statement on Twitter, the Tripoli branch of Islamic State (Isis) claimed responsibility, the Site Intelligence monitoring group said.

Mahmoud Hamza, commander of the Special Deterrent Force, told private satellite television station al-Nabaa that the situation was under control, though he could not confirm the whereabouts of the gunmen. He also said five foreigners were killed, without elaborating.

Another security official said earlier that gunmen killed three guards and took hostages, but had no further information on who the captives were. He also said that two commercial landmark towers behind the hotel were evacuated out of security concerns.

A hotel worker said masked attackers entered the hotel and fired randomly at staff in the lobby.

He described how the attackers fired in his direction when he opened his door to look out, after which he joined the rest of the staff and foreign guests fleeing out of the hotel’s back doors into the parking lot.

When they got to the parking area, he said a car bomb exploded about 100 metres away. He said the explosion came after a protection force entered the lobby and opened fire on the attackers. Two guards were immediately killed. The hotel staff member spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.

He said the hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests but was largely empty at the time of the attack.

The militia-backed prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, usually resides at the hotel but was not there on Tuesday. The hotel previously came under attack in 2013 when a former prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was abducted.

The attack appears designed for maximum impact, coming as the UN begins a new round of Libya peace talks in Geneva.

Social media sites claimed the attack is the work of Isis in revenge for the death earlier this month of Abu Anas al-Libi, arrested by US Delta Force commandos in the Libyan capital two years ago.

Al-Libi was indicted and awaiting trial in New York on charges of bombing US embassies in east Africa and died in hospital on 2 January.

Isis is rapidly making its presence felt in Libya.  Earlier this month, the government said it was responsible for the execution of 14 soldiers captured near the southern town of Sabha.

The group is, meanwhile, holding 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians – abducted from the town of Sirte. Isis units, including fighters who have returned from Syria, have already taken control of the coastal town of Derna, proclaiming it an Islamic caliphate and staging ritual executions.

In December, the Pentagon warned that the presence of Isis in Libya was growing and said it had evidence training camps have been set up.

Isis has taken advantage of the chaos in Libya caused by a civil war being fought between two rival rebel regimes; the imperialist-recognized junta which has fled to Tobruk and a rival administration, Libya Dawn, which holds Tripoli.

UN envoy Bernardino Léon is attempting to get all sides to agree to a peace plan, but the Geneva talks are hampered by Libya Dawn refusing to send a delegation.

Six months of fighting has left more than a thousand dead, some towns in ruins and more than 400,000 people displaced.

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