AT LEAST 45 people have been killed after a car bomb exploded in an eastern Libyan town yesterday in an attack by Islamic militants.
The bomb was detonated at a petrol station packed with motorists in the town of Qubba, about 19 miles from Darna, a stronghold of Libya’s Islamic State (IS) offshoot.
A Libyan army spokesman said motorists had lined up to fill their tanks at the station, next to the town’s security headquarters. Scores of people were also wounded in the attack.
Libya’s IS branch claimed responsibility, saying the attack was retaliation for recent Egyptian air strikes following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian hostages by Libyan IS militants.
In a statement posted on social media, the group said two of the “Caliphate’s knights” carried out the bombings, targeting what they described as a Libyan army operations room.
A security official said that the gas station blast was only one in a string of attacks in Qubba yesterday. The home of parliament speaker Ageila Saleh, who represents the elected government, based in eastern Libya, was also hit. A third attack targeted the security headquarters building itself.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, which the army spokesman said bore the hallmarks of Islamists who have battled the army for months in and around the eastern city of Benghazi.
Mr Saleh announced a seven-day mourning period in his hometown, and insisted that the bombing in Qubba was revenge for the Egyptian air strikes.
Libya has been engulfed in violence and chaos for four years since dictator Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi was ousted and killed.
The country is split between two rival parliaments and governments. One is based in the capital, Tripoli, and is backed by militias allied with Islamist factions, while the other is the elected parliament, which was forced to relocate and hold sessions in the far eastern city of Tobruk, near the Egyptian border.
In response to the beheadings of the 21 Coptic Christians, Egypt launched extensive air strikes early this week, targeting what it said were IS training camps and weapon caches in the eastern city of Darna. There were reports of civilians, including children, being accidentally killed in the crossfire.
Egypt has joined Libya’s foreign minister in pressing for a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift a UN arms embargo on Libya and pave the way for international intervention, similar to the US-led campaign in Syria and Iraq against the IS.
But the United States and Britain, both council members, rejected the call, saying that the chaotic country needs a national unity government first.
The UN debate came as 20 people, including senior officials, were killed in an attack on a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Islamist group al-Shabaab said it was behind the attack. The Central Hotel, often frequented by politicians, was hit by a car bomb and a suicide bomb attack.