MISRATA (Libya) • At least 65 people were killed yesterday when a truck bomb exploded at a police training centre in the town of Zliten, local officials and hospital sources said.
No group immediately claimed the attack, but the bombing was one of the deadliest since Islamist militants started expanding their presence in the chaos that followed the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Zliten mayor Miftah Hamadi said the bomb detonated as recruits were gathering at the police centre in the coastal town between the capital Tripoli and the port of Misrata.
A local security source said a suicide bomber had detonated the explosives-laden truck used for carrying water at the police school.
Witnesses said residents were ferrying victims to several hospitals in ambulances and cars. Many had shrapnel wounds.
Medical sources said 65 people were killed, including some civilians, although one official said between 50 and 60 had died.
"We don't have a clear idea of the total toll. Other victims were taken to hospitals in Misrata and Tripoli," said a spokesman for a hospital in Zliten.
The UN envoy to Libya, Mr Martin Kobler, denounced the attack and called for national unity.
"I condemn in the strongest terms today's deadly suicide attack in Zliten, call on all Libyans to urgently unite in fight against terrorism," he wrote on Twitter.
Since a Nato-backed revolt ousted Gaddafi, Libya has slipped deeper into turmoil with two rival governments and various armed factions locked in a struggle for control of the North African state and its oil wealth.
In the chaos, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants have grown in strength, taking over the city of Sirte and launching attacks on oilfields. ISIS fighters this week attacked two major oil export terminals.
In February last year, three car bombs hit the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah, killing 40 people in what officials described as a revenge attack for Egyptian air strikes on Islamist militant targets.
Western powers are pushing Libya's factions to back a UN-brokered national unity government to join forces against ISIS, but the agreement faces major resistance from several factions on the ground.
In a statement after yesterday's attack, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Libyans to back the agreement.
"Once again the Libyans are mourning victims of an attack," she said.
"The people of Libya deserve peace and security and... they have a great opportunity to set aside their divisions and work together, united, against the terrorist threat facing their country."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE