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Suicide Attacks, Airstrikes, and Political Turmoil Rages on in Libya

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Libya this week. And the US ambassador quit Twitter after some controversial claims.

by Giulia Aloisio
Mar 25 2015, 7:20pm

Photo by Mohammed El-Sheikhy/AP

Chaos continued in Libya this week, with apparent suicide bombings and disputed attacks on civilians. Then when the US ambassador spoke up against the violence she became involved in a Twitter controversy that ended in her leaving the social network permanently.

A Libyan news agency reported on Wednesday that a group of Islamic State (IS) militants killed five pro-Tripoli government fighters in Sirte. While military sources told Reuters that the attack appeared to be a suicide bombing, no further details are available. Further east, two other major attacks took place in Benghazi on Tuesday. Then, the internationally recognized government's jets allegedly killed civilians in airstrikes on a town close to Tripoli on Monday.

These multiple attacks epitomize the political turmoil that currently characterizes Libya. Two rival governments and numerous armed groups are still fighting for power and IS is apparently taking advantage of the unstable political situation in the region.

Following months of militancy in Libya, including the bombing of a luxury hotel in Tripoli and the mass beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts, IS militants are now also claiming responsibility for the series of suicide bombings that took place in Benghazi on Tuesday. The extremists claimed the attack in Twitter accounts linked to the terrorist group. A picture of the alleged Tunisian suicide bomber was also included in the statement.

According to a Libyan security official, Tuesday's attack, which triggered air strikes by armed forces in response, targeted Libya's government forces and allied fighters. AP reported that the bombings had killed 12 people and wounded 25.

In a separate attack on the same day, a rocket hit a residential building in Benghazi, killing two people, including a 17-year-old girl, and wounding three. It is still unclear who is responsible firing the weapon.

Benghazi has become the battleground of regular skirmishes between IS militants and the internationally recognized government's forces. The unstable situation is also damaging the city's economy, whose port has been closed for over four months, preventing exports and food imports. 

Meanwhile, IS is also suspected to be responsible for the abductions of the two Bangladeshi oil workers seized from a Libyan oil field nearly three weeks ago and freed today, although its involvement in the kidnapping has not been confirmed yet.

Eight civilians were also killed in the town of Tarhouna, south of Tripoli, on Monday, as government jets allegedly fired on militia positions in the town. The attack was an attempt to recapture the capital, seized by the group known as Libya's Dawn last August.

The US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, commented on the events on her Twitter account, asserting: "Terrible news today from #Tarhouna where 8 innocent displaced #Tawergha killed in air strikes. This violence serves no one's interests."

The internationally recognized government of Libya then accused Jones of "falsification" and asked her to retract her statement.

In response, the ambassador tweeted: "Numbers may need corrections, but bottom line remains: violence serves no one." However, a large amount of criticism surrounding the ambassador's tweet led to Jones quitting the social network.

Jones' Twitter account was followed by more than 50,000 users and represented a popular source of news and political information following the shutdown of much mainstream media in Libya.

Follow Giulia Aloisio on Twitter: @giulia7ar