Fighters have stormed Libya‘s foreign ministry in the capital, Tripoli, killing at least three people, including a senior civil servant, the authorities said.
Ten other people were wounded in what officials said was a suicide attack carried out by “terrorists” on Tuesday.
A car bomb exploded near the ministry, prompting security forces to rush to the scene. A suicide bomber then blew himself up on the second floor of the building while a second attacker died when the suitcase he was carrying exploded, according to Tarak al-Dawass, spokesperson for the special forces.
A third assailant, who was unarmed and wearing a bulletproof vest, was killed by security forces outside, added Dawass, who accused the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group of being responsible.
Early on Wednesday, ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq website.
Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the building as ambulances, paramedics and security forces gathered outside.
Security forces cordoned off the area and took control of all the buildings around the foreign ministry headquarters, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said.
All individuals and employees have been ordered to evacuate the buildings immediately, he added.
Abdelwahed said a security official was killed in the attack, while security sources said a civil servant who headed a department in the foreign ministry was also among the victims.
Meanwhile, a source from Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, one of the strongest armed groups in the capital, told Reuters news agency that their spokesperson, Abdulrahman Mazoughi, died in the attack.
The ministry denounced the attack on its employees saying, “The Libyan people are waging a war on terrorism on behalf of the world.”
Libya has been torn apart by power struggles and undermined by chronic insecurity since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country has at least two rival administrations: one based in the capital Tripoli, recognised by the United Nations, and another in the eastern city of Tobruk. There are also dozens of armed groups vying for power and state wealth.
Suicide bombers have targeted a number of Libya’s vital institutions as armed groups take advantage of the chaotic political situation.
“We have been consumed by our own internal fighting and rivalries,” Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha told reporters in Tripoli after the attack.
“That’s why we couldn’t have official security forces that are well equipped and trained to prevent such attacks. We have many challenges but we will never give up.”
Speaking at the same press conference, Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayalah appealed to the international community for help and called for the lifting of a United Nations arms embargo on Libya, which was introduced in 2011 as the country descended into turmoil.
“This is a message to the international community. We have demanded that the arms embargo on Libya be lifted,” he said.
“Security cannot be maintained in Libya unless the UN Security Council gives us an exception by partly lifting the arms embargo on certain … weapons so we can combat terrorism.”