Two dead in attack on Libya’s oil company

AFP, TRIPOLI

Tue, Sep 11, 2018 - Page 6

Armed men yesterday stormed the headquarters of Libya’s National Oil Co (NOC) in Tripoli, killing at least two people, officials said, as witnesses spoke of hearing a blast and gunfire.

Witnesses said the building near the city center had caught fire and was rapidly surrounded by security services, who evacuated its staff, including NOC chairman Mustafa Sanallah.

At least one explosion rocked the building soon after the gunmen went in, starting a fire that swiftly spread through the lower floors, officials said.

Two people were killed and 10 wounded, the Libyan Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Ministry official Malek Merset had earlier said that there were dozens of injuries caused by the gunfire, smoke inhalation or explosions.

Sanallah confirmed to the Libya 218 news channel that staff members had been killed and others wounded, some of whom were in a “serious condition.”

“The building was heavily damaged due to the fire. Smoke is everywhere,” Sanallah said. “The gunmen attacked the lower floors with random shooting and explosions. It’s a very violent attack.”

“The security services are looking for gunmen in the building, but our priority is to evacuate the civilians stuck inside,” said Ahmed Ben Salem, a spokesman for the Deterrence Force, a militia that operates as Tripoli’s police force. “The situation is under control.”

The Deterrence Force labelled the incident a “terrorist” attack and posted on its Facebook page photos it said showed the remains of suicide bombers.

However, there was no official word on the fate of the gunmen or whether they were still holding hostages.

Earlier, Libyan Minister of the Interior Brigadier General Abdul-Salam Ashour said the attack was carried out by six gunmen.

An oil company official, who asked not to be named, said masked gunmen had exchanged fire with guards.

“I jumped out of the window with other colleagues, and then we heard an explosion,” he said.

No group has so far claimed the attack.

The UN mission in Libya condemned the attack.

The attack on the NOC headquarters comes four months after suicide bombers struck the headquarters of Libya’s electoral commission, killing 14 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Early this month, days of clashes between rival armed groups in Tripoli left at least 63 people dead before a UN-backed ceasefire took hold.

Additional reporting by AP