Essam Al-Naas, a spokesman for a Tripoli security agency, told the Associated Press that a standoff was ongoing Tuesday at the Corinthia Hotel, which sits on the Mediterranean Sea. Police identified the victims as five foreigners and three guards.
The New York Times reported that the militants are claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.
A hotel worker who spoke on condition of anonymity said five masked attackers wearing bulletproof vests stormed the hotel after getting past security at the gates, firing in the air before shooting randomly at staffers. He said the hotel was evacuated before the attackers clashed with the guards and blew up a car bomb in the parking lot.
The staffer said the gunmen fired in his direction when he opened his door to look out. He said he joined the rest of the staff and foreign guests fleeing out the hotel’s back doors into the parking lot.
When they got there, he said a car bomb exploded in the parking lot, only a hundred meters (yards) away. He said this came after a protection force entered the lobby and opened fire on the attackers. He said two guards were immediately killed. The staffer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted later by militants. He said the car bomb left at least five cars in the parking lot burned and damaged some windows in the hotel’s facade.
The staffer said the hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests, but was largely empty at the time of the attack. He said the militia-backed Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi usually resides at the hotel, but was not there Tuesday. The hotel previously came under attack in 2013 when a former prime minister was abducted there.
Since the ouster and 2011 killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the country has been torn among competing militias and tribes vying for power. Libya’s post-Qaddafi transition has collapsed, with two rival governments and parliaments — each backed by different militias — ruling in the country’s eastern and western regions. Tripoli has been hit with series of car bombs and shootings amid the turmoil.
The Malta-owned hotel is also where the United Nations support mission in Libya holds its meetings. The mission is currently hosting political talks with rival Libyan groups in Geneva.
The group reportedly identified itself on social media as the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State. The Times reported that the militants portrayed the attack as retaliation for US action in the area, namely the abduction of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai.
Fox News/ The Associated Press