Gunmen storm luxury hotel in Libyan capital
Officials say at least eight killed as attackers assault government and diplomatic hub before detonating suicide belts.
Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Libya's capital, killing at least three guards and five foreigners, before blowing themselves up after being surrounded by security, officials said.
The attack, which included the use of a car bomb, struck the popular Corinthia Hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean Sea and is a major hub for diplomatic and government activity in Tripoli.
Mahmoud Hamza, commander of the so-called Special Deterrent Force, told private satellite television station al-Nabaa that the situation was "under control'' on Tuesday afternoon.
|The incident today sends a message that Tripoli is not secure.|
He also said five foreigners were killed, without elaborating, according to a report from the AP news agency.
Issam al-Naass, a spokesman for security services, later told the AFP news agency that the gunmen blew themselves up after being surrounded on an upper floor.
"After being pursued and surrounded on the hotel's 24th floor, the attackers detonated explosive belts they were wearing," Naass said.
Another security official earlier said the gunmen killed three guards and took hostages, but had no further information on the captives' identities. He also said that two commercial landmark towers behind the hotel were evacuated out of security concerns. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
According to security sources at the scene, the attack began when four armed men detonated a car bomb in front of the hotel, killing a guard, before rushing inside.
Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from the scene in Tripoli, said security forces rescued eight US nationals.
"We know that [the gunmen] entered the hotel and they went straight to the upper floor. They used hand bombs and AK47s".
Libya is mired in conflict between two rival governments - an internationally recognised one based in eastern Libya and a rival administration set up in Tripoli after an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital.
Mary Fitzgerald, a journalist reporting from Libya, told Al Jazeera: "The incident today sends a message that Tripoli is not secure."
"This will undermine the message that they are trying to send," she said, referring to the government based in the Libyan capital.
In a brief statement on Twitter, the Tripoli branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed the attack, the SITE Intelligence monitoring group said.
"Our thoughts are with our staff and guests," a spokesman for the Malta-based Corinthia Hotel chain, Matthew Dixon, told AFP by telephone. "We have no further information."
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called the attack "another reprehensible act of terrorism which deals a blow to efforts to bring peace and stability to Libya."
She expressed "solidarity with the victims and their families" but provided no details of casualties.
"Such attacks should not be allowed to undermine the political process," Mogherini said in a statement.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies