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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Libya's electoral commission in Tripoli rocked by suicide attack

Seven dead in bomb blast ahead of new elections that could take place this year

People gather outside the Libyan electoral commission headquarters in the capital Tripoli after it was targeted by a suicide attack that killed at least 11 people according to authorities and eyewitnesses. Mahmud TurkIa / AFP
People gather outside the Libyan electoral commission headquarters in the capital Tripoli after it was targeted by a suicide attack that killed at least 11 people according to authorities and eyewitnesses. Mahmud TurkIa / AFP

A group of militants including at least two suicide bombers stormed the head offices of Libya's electoral commission in Tripoli on Wednesday, killing at least seven people and setting fire to the building, a spokesman said.

Security forces engaged in a gun battle with the assailants for control of the building, said spokesman Khaled Omar.

"I saw two suicide bombers myself... they were shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)," he said, adding that he had seen bombers' body parts strewn on the ground.

He confirmed that the attack resulted in seven deaths, three from the commission’s staff and four members of the security forces.

"We (the staff) are out of the building now while the security people deal with the incident".

Pictures posted on social media showed thick black smoke billowing from the site of the attack, west of central Tripoli.

The electoral commission has been registering voters ahead of new elections that the United Nations says it hopes can be held in Libya before the end of the year.

Islamist militants including some with links to ISIS and Al Qaeda have a presence in Libya. Libyan and Western officials say they are concentrated in remote desert areas, but also have sleeper cells in coastal cities.

The global body and the European Union support a vote but rights groups say that the country is not yet ready for an election.

Human Rights Watch said in a March report that “voters, candidates and political parties” are vulnerable to “coercion, discrimination, and intimidation” if such a vote proceeds.

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Libya has been wracked by years of civil war since the ousting of leader Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.

What followed his ouster was years of infighting between rival militias, parliaments and militant groups. ISIS established an affiliate in the centre of the country, in the coastal city of Sirte.

A UN-backed government based out of Tripoli remains weak, with the east of the country secured by Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar, who oversees his own forces.

He returned from hospital in Paris last week after having medical treatment for an unidentified condition. At a press conference after his arrival, he announced that it was business as usual for him. His authority in the country’s east is such that he will be crucial to any peace deal.