Libya oil company offices attacked, causing fire, casualties

BENGHAZI, Libya — Security forces loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government on Monday stormed the headquarters of the country’s national oil company in the capital Tripoli shortly after gunmen invaded the building, shooting randomly, setting off explosions and taking hostages, officials said.

The Health Ministry said two people were killed and 10 others wounded in the attack. The company confirmed these casualty figures in a separate statement, adding that they were all company employees.

“There were a number of explosions inside the building and intense shooting, with a number of staff temporarily held hostage,” the company said. “Security forces arrived and liberated the building and those inside.”

The officials said explosions rocked the glass-and-steel building soon after the gunmen stormed it, starting a fire that swiftly spread through the lower floors.

Mustafa Sanallah, head of the Libyan National Oil Company, told a local television channel that the explosions and an exchange of gunfire between the attackers and the building’s security guards were behind the casualties.

“The building was heavily damaged due to the fire. Smoke is everywhere,” Sanallah said. “The gunmen attacked the lower floors with random shooting and explosions. It’s a very violent attack.”

Earlier, the Interior Minister of the U.N.-backed government, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Salam Ashour, said the attack was carried out by six gunmen.

A statement by the Tripoli-based government said security forces had “efficiently” dealt with the incident, “saving all employees and killing the terrorists,” adding that security agencies are working to identify the attackers and “those behind them.” The statement provided no further details.

The U.N. mission in Libya condemned the attack, describing it as “cowardly” and called on Libya to cease their “futile side conflicts” and unite to rid their nation of terrorism.

“We solemnly mourn the death of those martyred by the terrorists and wish a speedy recovery to those injured,” the NOC head Sanallah was quoted as saying in the company statement. “We praise our staff for their bravery in the face of unbelievable violence.”

The attack, he explained, had no impact on the country’s oil production or operations.

Monday’s attack followed recent fighting in Tripoli between rival armed groups, which left at least 61 people dead. A cease-fire has been in place since last week.

Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that overthrew ruler Moammar Gadhafi and led to his death. It is now governed by rival authorities in Tripoli and the country’s east.

In its statement, the government said Monday’s attackers exploited the recent spate of fighting between rival groups in the capital to “infiltrate (the city) and commit their crime.”

“This is a time when we should have closed ranks and pooled our resources and arms to strike at and uproot this cancer (terrorism),”it added.

Rami Musa, The Associated Press

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