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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Several dead in Benghazi car bombing

No claim of responsibility for attack in eastern Libyan city that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar declared free of extremists last year

People look at the damage from a car bombing in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on May 25, 2018. Reuters
People look at the damage from a car bombing in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on May 25, 2018. Reuters

At least seven people were killed and about 20 others injured in a car bomb attack in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday.

The bomb exploded close to the Tibesti hotel on a busy road where many people go to celebrate during the month of Ramadan, a security official said, adding that the victims were civilians.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the official blamed the assault on "terrorist sleeper cells who want to send a message that Benghazi is not safe".

Libya has been in chaos since a 2011 uprising which toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, with two rival authorities and numerous militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.

Military strongman Khalifa Haftar in July announced the "total liberation" of Benghazi, three years after his forces launched a military operation to seize the city from extremists who had made it a stronghold following the revolution.

But clashes and attacks in the city have continued, including against diplomatic facilities and security forces.

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Almost 40 people were killed following a double car bomb attack in front of a Benghazi mosque in January. In February, another attack left one person dead and nearly 150 wounded, also in front of a mosque.

Field Marshal Haftar supports a parliament based in the far east of Libya, while a rival United Nations-backed unity government in the capital Tripoli has struggled to assert its authority outside the west of the country.

Earlier this month Field Marshal Haftar returned to Benghazi after two weeks in a Paris hospital to launch a new anti-extremist offensive.

Presenting himself as the scourge of Islamist militancy, he announced the start of a military campaign to retake the eastern city of Derna.

The city is the only part of eastern Libya to remain out of the control of the field marshal's Libyan National Army.

It is currently held by the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna, a ragtag collection of Islamist and extremist militias that includes Al Qaeda and is hostile to both Field Marshal Haftar and ISIS.

A suicide attack claimed by ISIS killed more than a dozen people at the headquarters of the electoral commission in Tripoli this month.

The international community is pushing for elections in Libya that it hopes will end the turmoil in the country.