(Bloomberg) -- Suicide bombers linked to Islamic State killed at least 14 people in an attack on the headquarters of Libya’s elections commission, striking a target central to planned polls meant to edge the country back toward stability.
Gunfire erupted as the attackers targeted security forces guarding the building, said Khaled el Mannai, deputy head of public relations at the commission. While one kept watch on the entrance, another “roamed through offices showering people with bullets. When police reinforcements reached the area, the attackers blew themselves up inside,” he said.
Interior Minister Abdel Salam Ashour said at least 14 were killed, and the Health Ministry said another seven were wounded. The Site Intelligence Group said Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack drawing condemnation from the United States.
“This terrorist attack against a key pillar of Libya’s fragile democracy only deepens the United States commitment to support all Libyans as they prepare for credible and secure elections,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The attack in the capital Tripoli reflects the challenges security forces face in rooting out militants who seized footholds in Libya amid the chaos that followed the 2011 ouster of Muammar Al-Qaddafi. Islamic State had controlled the central city of Sirte, hoping to use it as a launchpad for attacks in Libya and neighboring countries. But it was driven out by forces loyal to the United Nations-backed prime minister, with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
It has since been making a comeback, aided by the feuding of two rival administrations and dozens of regional militias.
The United Nations has been struggling to help the opposing governments lay the groundwork for a new constitution and elections. It’s pushing for votes on both to be held by the end of the year, and Libyan officials have been registering voters.
The push for peace has been complicated by the involvement in the Libyan conflict of outside powers seeking to bolster their regional clout. Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have backed military leader Khalifa Haftar, whose self-styled Libya National Army rose to prominence by targeting Islamists and has since gained control over the oil-rich eastern part of the country.
In a statement, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack in Tripoli and called on the the international community to cut off sources of terrorist funding and prevent the establishment of safe havens.
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