At least nine people, including four foreigners, were killed yesterday when gunmen from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) stormed a hotel used by Westerners in Libya.
The foreigners, who included two women, died during an attack on the five-star Corinthia Hotel in the capital, Tripoli.
Also killed was a Libyan security officer and two of the gunmen, who blew themselves up after being surrounded on an upper floor.
The attack on the hotel was carried out by fighters from Isil, according to a US-based intelligence monitoring organisation that quoted a message put out on Isil's Libyan Twitter feed.
Details were still unclear last night, but according to security sources at the scene, four armed men detonated a car bomb in front of the hotel, killing a guard, before rushing inside.
The men, who were wearing masks and bulletproof vests, then began firing randomly at staff in the lobby.
It is understood that a number of hostages were taken, but their nationalities were unclear.
Security forces then surrounded the building, while residents fled out of emergency exits.
"After being pursued and surrounded on the hotel's 21st floor, the attackers detonated explosive belts they were wearing," said Issam al-Naass, a spokesman for security services.
One member of staff said the hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests, but the hotel was largely empty at the time of the attack. Essam Naas, a spokesman for Tripoli security forces, told Reuters earlier: "The security forces are evacuating the guests floor by floor. There was shooting between the gunmen and the security forces.
"It is more than likely that there are hostages held by the gunmen on the 23rd floor."
The Maltese-owned hotel is also used by senior Libyan politicians as a de facto headquarters for visits to Tripoli and political meetings.
The hotel previously came under attack in 2013 when a former Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was briefly abducted from the hotel by one of the many armed factions now competing for power in Libya.
Libya is caught up in a conflict involving two rival governments - an internationally recognised one based in eastern Libya, and a rival administration set up in Tripoli after an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital.
Most foreign governments closed their embassies and pulled their staff out of Tripoli after fighting between the rival factions erupted last summer.
It was not immediately clear who carried out yesterday's attack, but the SITE monitoring service said a militant group claiming affiliation with Isil had claimed responsibility.
The assault on the Corinthia appears to have been revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Libi, an al-Qa'ida commander who is accused of helping to plan the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He died in hospital in New York last year while awaiting trial.
The attack on the Corinthia Hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean Sea, underscores the lawlessness that the North African country descended into following the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Ghaddafi. (© Daily Telegraph, London)