10th September 2018: Armed men attacked the HQ of Libya’s National Oil Company (NOC) in Tripoli in a suicide raid, engaging guards in a deadly gun battle.
At least two NOC staff members were killed and 10 others were wounded, confirmed the Libyan health ministry. Two gunmen also died during the raid when security forces launched a counter-attack to regain control of the key NOC building in the centre of the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
“A total of six perpetrators appear to have attacked the building where they took a number of hostages,” Interior Minister Abdulsalam Ashour was quoted as saying by Al-Ahrar television channel. The attack was described as a “terrorist” attack by local authorities.
A massive explosion, carried out by a suicide bomber, rocked the NOC building soon after the attackers went in, which started a fire that swiftly spread through the building.
A day later the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released by its propaganda network Amaq Agency.
It was the first attack of its kind targeting the top management of Libya’s state oil industry. Armed groups regularly block oilfields to make demands, but the NOC headquarters had so far been spared.
“The building was heavily damaged due to the fire. Smoke is everywhere,” the head of the company, Mustafa Sanallah, told a Libyan television channel. “The gunmen attacked the lower floors with random shooting and explosions. It’s a very violent attack.” Sanallah confirmed to the Libya 218 news channel that staff members had been killed and others wounded, some of whom were in “serious condition”. An NOC staff member, who said he jumped out of a window to flee, told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity “several people were shot” during the attack.
On Tuesday 11th September, one day after the NOC HQ attack, rockets were fired at Tripoli city’s only functioning airport, forcing authorities to divert flights to another airport to the south, less than a week after the U.N. brokered a cease-fire between rival armed groups. On Wednesday September 12 2018, a new group, calling itself the Ḥarāk Shabāb Ṭarābulus (Tripoli’s Youth Movement) claimed responsibility the rocket attack. The group released a video without shying away from their intentions: militias seen to be supporting the internationally-recognised Government National Accord (GNA) must hand back control of the airport to civilian authorities. The attack was also referred to as a warning, explaining initial reports referring to the lack of casualties during the attack.
Resurgent violence in Tripoli comes as no surprise, with militia groups now engaged in a battle for control of areas and access to financial resources, the exact same militias that is suppose to support the Government National Accord (GNA) in providing security to Tripoli. Tripoli remains of strategic importance in a country searching for stability and political cohesion. Tripoli is home to for example the Libyan Central Bank, the National Oil Company (NOC) as well as air and sea port. Who controls these institutions, controls an ever shrinking economy in Libya and hence state funds becomes a commodity accelerating competing interests culminating in violence.
The current violence is thus not one of ideological contest, but a contest over financial resource which is becoming a scarce commodity due to Libya’s fragile position. Complicating the situation in Tripoli is the proliferation of militia groups, an indication that Tripoli is once again set for continued incidents of violence in the foreseeable future. One of the more significant militia groups engaged in acts of violence is the Seventh Brigade, from Tarhuna (southeast of Tripoli), challenging militia groups reporting to the GNA interior ministry, such as the Misrata’s 301 Brigade, and the Ghnewa Brigade. A ceasefire announcement by UNSMIL on September 10th 2018 will have little impact with the lack of control over militia groups negating any calls to accountability in adhering to the agreement. Following the ceasefire announcement the 7th Brigade was quick to release a statement making specific reference to a ‘”Zero Hour” for Tripoli in removing militias that act like criminal gangs. It is within the current climate that the Islamic State will use all available opportunities to announce its presence via attacks as well as consolidating its position since the fall of Derna and Sirte. Instability and lack of governance have proven to the ISIS greatest ally, even in the face of territorial losses. Libya is by no means an exception.
On 2nd October, Ḥarāk Shabāb Ṭarābulus (Tripoli’s Youth Movement) released a video of the rocket attack targeting airport at Tripoli.
ITCT Associate Jasmine Opperman says, “Harāk Shabāb Tarābulus (Tripoli’s Youth Movement) is a new group in the crowded urban space of Tripoli. Since its first claimed attack on 13 September 2018, Harāk Shabāb Tarābulus has released at least one statement/warning. On 15 September 2018, a new group in Tripoli (Libya) Ḥarāk Shabāb Ṭarābulus (Tripoli’s Youth Movement) created a new logo on their Facebook Page. Its interesting that they release their warnings and statements via Facebook considering that Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blocked Facebook for the nation on 04 September 2018.”
A 13th September statement by Ḥarāk Shabāb Ṭarābulus (Tripoli’s Youth Movement) threatened managers and employees of Libyan Airlines.