ZLITEN: A suicide truck bombing on a police school in the Libyan city of Zliten killed more than 50 people on Thursday, in the deadliest attack to hit the strife-torn country since its 2011 revolution.
A bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck used for carrying water at a police training center in central Zliten at around 8:30 am (0630 GMT), a local security source told AFP.
A witness in Zliten, a coastal city about 170 kilometers (100 miles) east of Tripoli, told that some 300 men, mainly coast guards, were inside the compound at the time.
Health ministry spokesman Ammar Mohammed Ammar said 50 to 55 people had been killed and at least 100 wounded and that victims were being treated in several hospitals. Urgent calls were issued for blood donations.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but the Islamic State group, which has been growing in power in Libya, has carried out many suicide bombings in the country.
Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi and has had rival administrations since August 2014, when an Islamist-backed militia alliance overran Tripoli, forcing the government to take refuge in the east.
The internationally recognized government condemned the attack as a “cowardly terrorist act” and called for the lifting of an arms embargo it says has prevented authorities from tackling IS.
– Calls for unity –
Meanwhile, a deputy defense minister for the Tripoli-based government, Mohammad Bashir al-Naas, vowed to avenge the attack.
“The perpetrator is not known but he is a coward. He kills our sons from the shadows. We must avenge them and do everything possible to protect them,” Naas told a press conference.
The United Nations is pressing Libya’s rival sides to implement a power-sharing deal agreed last month on forming a unity government.
The UN envoy to Libya and Western governments called for unity in the wake of the attack, saying implementing the political agreement was crucial.
“I condemn in the strongest terms today’s deadly suicide attack in Zliten, call on all Libyans to urgently unite in fight against terrorism,” UN envoy Martin Kobler wrote on Twitter.
EU policy chief Federica Mogherini also urged Libyans to back the unity deal.
“The people of Libya deserve peace and security and… they have a great opportunity to set aside their divisions and work together, united, against the terrorist threat facing their country,” she said.
Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, offered its support in helping to bring stability.
“In the face of this terrorist threat, the first answer must be unity among Libyans,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said. “It is urgent that the recently signed political agreement be implemented.”
France also condemned the attack and called on “all Libyan parties to quickly form a national unity government… that would be a partner for the international community in the face of terrorism.”
– ‘Struggle for power’ –
World powers fear Libya could descend further into chaos and become an IS stronghold on Europe’s doorstep.
In a report to the UN Security Council in November, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that IS had been responsible for at least 27 car and suicide bombings in Libya in 2015.
The group claimed responsibility for suicide car bombings in the eastern town of Al-Qoba in February that killed at least 40 people.
In recent days, IS has launched a series of attacks on oil facilities in eastern Libya, pushing east from its coastal stronghold of Sirte.
Officials have warned of crippling consequences for the country if the jihadists manage to seize control of Libya’s oil resources.
Calls have been growing for a possible foreign military intervention to bring stability to Libya and contain IS, which is reported to have at least 3,000 fighters in the country.
Mohamed Eljarh, a Libya analyst with the Atlantic Council, said it was unlikely the latest attack would boost unity efforts.
“This has not been the case in the past, even when IS was expanding and the scale of attacks was intensifying,” he said.
“Despite IS’s evident presence in Libya, various political groups are still consumed with their struggle for power and control.”