MANILA – (UPDATE3, 7:43 P.M.) Two Filipinos were killed and two others were among the wounded in Tuesday’s daring attack by suspected Islamic State elements on a luxury hotel in Libya’s capital.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier a Filipina was among the injured, but was being treated and is out of danger. The DFA said it is still verifying reports of the two Filipino fatalities.
The latest update by Agence France-Presse said an American, a French citizen, a South Korean and two Filipinas were the five foreigners killed when gunmen assaulted a luxury hotel in Tripoli Tuesday, a security official said.
Earlier, Issam al-Naass had said five foreigners died after the gunmen set off a car bomb outside the Corinthia Hotel in the Libyan capital, then rushed inside and opened fire, said the AFP report.
He did not give the identities of any of the dead.
At least five people were also wounded, including two Filipina employees hurt by broken glass from the car bomb, Naass said.
According to a Reuters report, at least nine people, including foreigners, were killed before the gunmen blew themselves up with a grenade.
Officials said shooting erupted inside the five-star Corinthia Hotel and security forces evacuated guests, including Tripoli’s prime minister and an American delegation, after at least two gunmen blasted through the building’s reception, Reuters said.
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
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, the 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.
DFA still verifying 2 deaths; OFWs reminded of repatriation
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila confirmed only injuries to one Filipino, and was still confirming the report about two Filipino fatalities.
In a press conference, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the Filipina, whose name cannot be disclosed yet, sustained five gunshot wounds and was rushed to the Mitiga Hospital in Tripoli, where
she underwent surgery.
Jose said the Filipino is now “out of danger” and in “stable condition”. The Philippine Embassy personnel in Tripoli visited the Filipina in the hospital and met her relatives.
During the meeting with the family, Jose said that the family agreed to avail of the government’s repatriation program there as soon as the doctors deem the injured Filipina fit to travel. She works for an energy company,
Likewise, Jose said that the Philippine Embassy is also verifying reports about the possible death of two Filipinos in the attacks.
“So far nothing has been reported to the embassy,” Jose said. “Our embassy is continuously monitoring the incident and has contacted major hospitals throughout Tripoli and coordinated with relevant authorities in Libya to check if there are other Pinoy casualties from [the] hotel attack,” Jose added.
Libya, he added, remains under crisis alert level 4 since mid-2014 because of the security situation there. “We appeal to all our nationals there to take extra precaution and avail themselves of the government’s repatriation program.”
There are still 4,000 Filipinos in Libya even after the Philippine government repatriated another 4,000 since the start of the repatriation program during the height of anti-government protests in
the Middle East in 2011.
Hotel’s 24th floor targeted
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.
Here’s the rest of the Reuters report:
It was one of the worst assaults targeting foreigners since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi and fractured the oil-producing North African state into fiefdoms of rival armed groups with two national governments, both claiming legitimacy.
Militants claiming ties with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said in a Twitter message they were responsible for the attack, which they said was revenge for the death in the United States of a suspected Libyan al Qaeda operative, according to the SITE monitoring service.
But Tripoli officials who have set up their own self-proclaimed government blamed Gaddafi loyalists bent on killing their prime minister, who was at the hotel, and said he was rescued without injury.
“The attackers opened fire inside the hotel,” Omar Khadrawi, head of Tripoli security, told Reuters. “When the attackers were completely surrounded by the security forces, one of them detonated a grenade, but we don’t know if it was deliberate.”
Tripoli security spokesman Essam Naas told Reuters later that an American and a Frenchman were among five foreigners killed. He said the other foreigners who died at the hotel were Asian but gave no nationalities.
The American who was killed was a security contractor working for Virginia-based Crucible LLC, said Alan John, an executive of the company. He said the name of the contractor was not being released at this time and gave no other details.
A security officer was also killed in the clashes and three guards died when the attackers set off a car bomb in the car park outside the hotel.
Most foreign governments closed their embassies and pulled staff out of Tripoli after factional fighting erupted in the capital last summer. But some diplomats, business and trade delegations still visit the capital.
Envoys from the United Nations, which is holding talks in Geneva with some of Libya’s warring parties to try to end hostilities, have also been in Tripoli.
Libya is caught in a conflict between the two rival factions, one allied with the internationally recognized government, the other with “Libya Dawn” forces who took over Tripoli in the summer and set up their own government.
But in Libya’s post-revolution chaos, armed groups, from brigades of former rebels to federalist fighters and Islamist militants, have grown in power and control more territory.
Islamist militants, including those who claim loyalty to Islamic State, operate in pockets of Libya, especially eastern Benghazi and Derna. Recently, they claimed to have kidnapped two Tunisian journalists, and groups of Egyptians.
Foreigners and embassies have also been targeted in shootings, kidnappings and bombings in the past.
In 2012, militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. U.S. officials blamed a Libyan Islamist group, Ansar al Sharia, for orchestrating that attack.
The Corinthia, a luxury high-rise overlooking the capital’s coastline, is frequently used by top government and foreign delegations. In 2013, the then-Libyan prime minister was briefly abducted from the hotel by former rebels on the state payroll.
On Tuesday, Khadrawi, the capital’s security director, said security forces had spirited the Tripoli government’s premier, Omar al-Hassi, from the 22nd floor of the hotel, where he was staying, to safety. Four Americans were also rescued, he said.
“The attackers were attempting to assassinate him,” he said.
But SITE monitors, citing social media, said a militant group had claimed the attack as revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Liby, a suspected al Qaeda member accused of helping plan the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Liby died in a New York hospital this month ahead of his trial.
The Libyan national was snatched by U.S. Special Forces from Tripoli in 2013.
Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Libya has struggled to find stability and a conflict has gradually emerged between two loose confederations of politicians, armed groups and regional factions.
Tripoli is controlled by a faction that is allied to the city of Misrata and their powerful armed forces, but also includes some Islamist-leaning former rebel fighters and politicians allied to the Muslim Brotherhood.
They are faced by the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and the elected parliament who now operate out of the east of Libya. Thinni’s government is allied to several armed factions, including a former Gaddafi army general battling Islamist militants in Benghazi.