ISIS Hotel Attack Kills 8 in Libya as Rival Factions Hold Peace Talks

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Libyan security forces and emergency services surround Tripoli's central Corinthia Hotel (R) on January 27, 2015 in the Libyan capital. AFP/Mahmoud Turkia

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Updated at 4:23 pm (GMT +2):At least eight people, including five foreigners, were killed when gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Tuesday, a local security official said, a day after a new round of peace talks between the country’s warring factions kicked off in Geneva.

It was not immediately clear who staged the attack, but the SITE monitoring service said a militant group claiming affiliation with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has seized swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory, had claimed responsibility.

Gunfire could be heard inside the Corinthia Hotel, Tripoli's most prominent hotel where government officials and foreign delegations often stay. There were conflicting reports about the exact number and the identity of those killed as the gunmen battled security forces.

"Eight people were killed during the storming of the hotel... Five foreigners, two of them are women. (Also) one security man and two of the attackers," Mahmoud Hamza of the Tripoli security force told local al-Naba television.

Earlier officials said three security guards had been killed in a car bomb blast just before the gunmen stormed the hotel. It was not immediately clear whether the three were among the eight deaths reported by Hamza or were additional casualties.

Hamza did not give the nationality of the foreigners killed.

Other officials gave conflicting accounts of whether any foreign nationals had been killed in the attack.

Most foreign governments closed their embassies and pulled their staff out of Tripoli after fighting between two rival factions erupted last summer. But some diplomats, business and trade delegations still visit the capital.

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, then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was seized by gunmen from the hotel, where he was residing. He was released after several hours.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory, especially oil sites, across the North African state.

Fighting in Libya has displaced tens of thousands since the summer and disrupted medical and health services. Conflict has caused frequent fuel, power and water shortages, increased food prices and damaged infrastructure.

Tuesday’s attack came a day after the United Nations said Libya's warring factions were sowing a "constructive spirit” in the new round of peace talks.

"I am confident that Libyans participating and those who hopefully will join the talks have a very clear determination to reach an agreement, to pacify the country and to overcome the crisis," said Bernadino Leon, the UN envoy for Libya and mediator in the talks.

"There is a very constructive spirit. There are very good ideas on the table," he said in a statement after Monday's talks, adding "everything is positive."

During a first round of UN-mediated discussions in the Swiss city earlier this month, the warring factions from the strife-torn country agreed on a roadmap to form a unity government.

Leon warned ahead of the first round of talks that they were a last-ditch effort to prevent all-out chaos, and that the country was rapidly becoming a hotbed of Islamist insurgents.

He said Monday that he was satisfied with the progress so far.

Libya has had two governments and parliaments competing for legitimacy since Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) seized the capital in August, installing its cabinet and forcing the government of internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani to the east.

The UN wants the rival factions to forge a unity government and end hostilities.

Ahead of the talks, the UN's Libya mission UNSMIL appealed to all sides "to approach these talks... in a spirit of openness and reconciliation that is guided by the higher national interest of the Libyan people."

"It's an excellent atmosphere. What is important is to build trust," he said, adding: "All these steps we are taking are sound steps."

The internationally-recognized government and some of its opponents are represented at the talks, but the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya was not officially taking part.

However, it did declare a ceasefire with Libya's army following the January 15 agreement, and some of the group's high-level officials from cities beyond the capital, including Misrata, were in Geneva for the negotiations.

In addition to the main political track resuming Monday, the UN said another meeting would be taking place in Geneva on Wednesday bringing together municipal and local council representatives from cities and towns across Libya to discuss "confidence building measures and ways to implement them."

UNSMIL said it also planned to convene a number of other meetings later.

"These will include representatives from Libyan political parties, social and tribal forces, as well as the armed groups," it said in a statement.

The first round of talks appear to have done little to calm the situation on the ground.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan al-Saghir was kidnapped Sunday by gunmen posing as security forces in the eastern city of al-Baida, where the recognized government is based.

He was released Monday and was in good condition, a ministry official said, without providing further details.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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