UN Security Council condemns 'heinous' Tripoli hotel attack that left 9 dead

An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows fire and smoke rising in front of the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli on Jan 27, 2015 after gunmen stormed the luxury hotel. -- PHOTO: AFP
An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows fire and smoke rising in front of the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli on Jan 27, 2015 after gunmen stormed the luxury hotel. -- PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned the "heinous" attack on a hotel in Tripoli popular with diplomats and officials that left nine dead, and said those behind the terrorist act should face justice.

Five foreigners - an American, two Filipinos, a French citizen and a South Korean national - were among those killed when gunmen stormed the luxury Corinthia Hotel in the Libyan capital.

In a unanimous statement, the 15-member council "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack" and offered condolences to the families of the victims of "this heinous act". The council also urged all politicians and factions in Libya to work with the United Nations to launch a political process "aimed at addressing the political and security challenges facing the country".

UN envoy Bernardino Leon is seeking to broker a deal on forming a unity government in Libya, which has been wracked by conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

The Tripoli branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Twitter, according to SITE, which monitors militant media.

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 ISIS militants, it would underline the growing reach of an extremist group with ambitions to spread its influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

After setting off a car bomb outside the Corinthia Hotel - where visiting world leaders have met local dignitaries in the past - three militants rushed inside and opened fire, Mr Issam al-Naass, a 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 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.

Mr Naass said the foreigners killed were an American, two Filipinos, 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 but did not identify the two victims.

US security company Crucible confirmed that one of its employees, Mr David Berry, was the American killed on Tuesday in a militant attack on a luxury hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Mr Cliff Taylor, chief operating officer of the Virginia-based firm, told AFP he could give no more details about the victim for security reasons, but added that all other Crucible employees were accounted for.

"Today our company was the victim of a terrorist attack," he said. "Our company mourns this extraordinary loss with his family and friends."

Crucible is a "security training and operations firm" providing experts to help protect US government agencies, multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations in difficult areas.

Earlier, US and Libyan officials had confirmed that one American was among nine people killed when gunmen wearing bomb belts detonated a car bomb and stormed the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli.

At least five people were also wounded, including two Filipina employees hurt by broken glass from the car bomb, Mr Naass said.

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.

The head of Libya's self-declared government, Mr Omar al-Hassi, was inside the hotel at the time of the attack but was evacuated safely, Mr Naass said.

The Tripoli branch of ISIS said the attack was in honour of Abu Anas al-Libi, an Al-Qaeda suspect who died in the United States earlier this month, days before facing a trial for bombing US embassies.

A video posted on militant forums showed an image of one of the alleged perpetrators.

Security forces loyal to Mr Hassi's government, which is jostling for power with the internationally backed authority of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, surrounded the building during the assault.

The government in Tripoli said Tuesday's attack was an assassination attempt on Mr Hassi it blamed on "enemies of the revolution and the war criminal Khalifa Haftar", a former general who last year spearheaded an operation against Islamist militias in the second city Benghazi.

Ambulances, armoured vehicles and pick-up trucks with mounted artillery could be seen around the hotel during the attack.

Security forces prevented journalists from entering the hotel afterwards, saying work was needed inside to ensure the assailants had not left behind booby traps.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini condemned the attack, calling it "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".

A new round of UN-mediated peace talks between Libya's rival factions kicked off in Geneva Monday as they seek to implement a roadmap on forming a unity government.

The North African nation has been wracked by conflict since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with rival governments and powerful militias now battling for control of key cities and the country's oil riches.

The Islamist-backed Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) militia alliance took control of Tripoli last summer, forcing Thani's government to flee to the remote east.

The luxurious Corinthia was long considered a haven in a city beset by unrest, with officials, diplomats and foreign businessmen crossing paths in its lavish reception area.

In October 2013, gunmen seized then prime minister Ali Zeidan from the hotel, where he was residing. He was released after several hours.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy met top officials at the hotel in September 2011, when they were the first foreign leaders to visit Libya after Gaddafi's ouster.

Meanwhile in Benghazi, 22 people were killed and 68 wounded in fighting since Monday evening, a security source said.

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