ISIS Attacks Algerian Embassy in Libya’s Tripoli

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A picture taken on January 17, 2015 in the Dahra District of the Libyan capital Tripoli shows damage in front of the Algerian embassy after an explosion. AFP/Mahmud Turkia

Published Sunday, January 18, 2015

Assailants lobbed explosives at Algeria's embassy in the Libyan capital Saturday, a security official said, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group.

ISIS, which declared a “caliphate” on large areas in Iraq and Syria it seized in June, is thought to have gained a foothold in eastern Libya, and recently claimed to have executed two Tunisian journalists there.

ISIS’ Libya branch said "soldiers of the caliphate" attacked the empty mission in a message posted on Twitter, together with a photograph of a tree-lined street with a fire in the background.

There was no independent confirmation of the claim — reported by the US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence.

ISIS posted a similar claim for a December 27 car bomb attack outside the building of a Libyan unit tasked with securing diplomatic missions that left no casualties, SITE reported at the time.

The security official, who works for the unit, said Saturday's attack in central Tripoli seriously wounded a guard and that two passers-by were lightly hurt. Medical sources confirmed the toll.

State-run press agency Algeria Press Service (APS), however, reported that two security personnel were injured during the attack. It said the two were in a stable condition and were immediately transported to a hospital in Tripoli.

The assailants threw "a bag full of explosives from a passing car at a police car parked near a guard post," the official said, adding that the attack caused damage to the building and parked cars.

But in a brief tweet, ISIS said the blast was caused by an explosive device planted by its militants under the guard station.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra condemned the bombing saying "any attack on a diplomatic post is a crime under international law."

The foreign ministry of Libya's internationally-recognized government also denounced the bombing as a "cheap attempt to influence the national dialogue in Geneva."

Saturday's attack came a day after a coalition of militias declared a ceasefire, hours after an agreement at UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva between Libya's warring factions.

The UN Security Council welcomed the ceasefire but threatened to impose sanctions on those who obstruct peace efforts.

The top UN body "is prepared to sanction those who threaten Libya's peace, stability or security or that obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition,” it said in a statement on Saturday.

UN envoy Bernardino Leon was praised for his mediation efforts in the talks that were billed as a last-ditch effort to launch a peace process for Libya.

A first round of talks yielded an agreement on a roadmap to forming a unity government in Libya.

The 15-member council voiced support for a second round of UN-brokered talks to be held in Geneva next week and strongly urged all warring sides to attend.

"There can be no military solution to the crisis in Libya," the council said in its statement.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi echoed the UN statement, saying that his country's crisis would only be solved through political means.

Following a meeting in Cairo with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi, Dairi said on Saturday that an ongoing national dialogue among Libya's political rivals in Geneva was an opportunity to reach a political settlement for the crisis in Libya.

"A political solution will be the only way out of the current crisis," Dairi said.

He welcomed a decision by Arabi to send the Arab League's Special Envoy to Libya Nasser al-Qudwa to Geneva to be part of the national dialogue.

He called for Arab support for the national Libyan army so that it could counter terrorism.

Moreover, the European Union on Saturday hailed an accord between Libya's warring factions, but said there was still a "long way to go" to bring peace to the country.

"Some steps in the right direction have been taken," Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said.

"This initial progress is a start and should be welcomed even if there's still a long way to go. The participants have shown a constructive attitude," she said, adding, "I encourage all invited representatives, including those who did not attend this round, to participate in the second round of talks next week with the same spirit of respect and consensus."

"The gravity of the situation in Libya requires that all Libyans place the interest of their nation above their differences and reach an agreement that can finally put an end to the deepening political and security crisis in the country," Mogherini said.

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.

Vying for legislative authority are the newly-elected House of Representatives, the internationally recognized government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, which convenes in Tobruk, and the Islamist administration, which continues to convene in Tripoli.

Western powers, who backed the military uprising against Gaddafi in Libya, fear that extremists who they armed and trained during the uprising are seeking to exploit a power vacuum in the oil-producing nation.

Jihadist threat

Most countries, including Algeria, pulled out their diplomats from Tripoli after the city was taken by Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn).

Libyan Dawn is a coalition of Islamist-led militias which seized control of Tripoli in August after weeks of deadly fighting with a nationalist group.

The extremist group also holds the country’s third city, Misrata. It launched a bloody offensive in December to seize control of key oil terminals but was repelled by the army.

In November, two car bombs struck near the shuttered embassies of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in Tripoli within minutes of each other, wounding five guards.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan blamed those attacks on Libyan Dawn and Ansar al-Sharia.

Moreover, Islamists led by Ansar al-Sharia, a group blacklisted by the United Nations for its links to al-Qaeda, control parts of second city Benghazi in the east and have been locked in battle with pro-government forces since May.

Washington has blacklisted Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist group for its alleged role in a deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

In an interview with AFP, Thani warned that his country could become a dangerous haven for jihadists.

"In Libya, the government and armed forces are battling these groups alone, without any support from the international community," Thani said just before the Geneva talks.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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