At least five foreigners and three security guards have reportedly been killed after gunmen stormed a popular hotel in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State.
The armed attackers shot their way into the Corinthia Hotel — a hub for overseas visitors which also houses offices of foreign companies — and detonated a car bomb outside as security forces surrounded the building and sealed off the area.
An American citizen was among the dead, NBC reported. There was no information as to the nationalities of the others.
A security official cited by AP earlier said that the gunmen had taken hostages, though could not give any further details.
A Twitter account linked to the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but the claim could not be confirmed.
A hotel employee told AP that the assault had been launched by five masked men in bulletproof vests, who forced their way past security at the gates and stormed the reception area, shooting indiscriminately at staff.
He said he had opened his door to see what was happening, attracting gunfire in his direction. He then fled the hotel with other staff and guests through the back entrance leading to the parking lot
After security forces entered the building, a car bomb then detonated in the lot, the employee continued. He said two guards had been shot dead.
The staff member said that Italian, British and Turkish guests were staying in the hotel though there were few people inside at the time of the attack.
The Islamist-backed prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, is believed to usually live at the hotel, but the employee said he was not there on Tuesday.
The BBC cited a security source at the hotel as saying it had received a threat "a few days ago" and that managers were told "to empty the building."
Libya has descended into chaos since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 and is currently torn between two rival governments — the internationally recognized Council of Representatives in Tobruk and an Islamist-backed self declared leadership in Tripoli.
The United Nations mission in the country is currently hosting talks between the rival groups in Geneva. It regularly holds meetings in the Maltese-owned Corinthia.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, condemned the attack as "a reprehensible act of terrorism which deals a blow to efforts to bring peace and stability to Libya."
"The EU expresses solidarity with the victims and their families. The EU strongly supports the efforts of the ongoing UN led talks to bring a political solution based on respect and dialogue.
"Such attacks should not be allowed to undermine the political process."
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