A string of car bombings and other terrorist actions was topped off with a massive truck bomb that killed 47 people at a police training center in the western town of Zliten, Libya today.
Zliten’s mayor, Miftah Hamadi, tearfully described the blast as “horrific” in a phone interview with Reuters. “The explosion was so loud it was heard from miles away,” he said. “All the victims were young, and all about to start their lives.”
According to an account of the attack at the New York Times, the attack hit while some 400 cadets were gathering at the training camp early Thursday morning. The attackers drove a water truck filled with explosives through the front gates, detonating their explosive payload in the yard.
A local security officer attested that nothing remained of the truck but metal shrapnel. Some of the victims were too badly mangled to be identified.
The original casualty count was much higher, at least 65 dead, but Reuters puts the number at 47 dead and 118 wounded.
Although no group had formally claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of this writing, the Islamic State has been making a bid for control of the area, and has been responsible for other bombings in the area, along with attempts to seize control of Libya’s oil infrastructure.
“On Monday, Islamic State fighters launched an attack on Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, Libya’s biggest oil export terminals, which are situated between Sirte and the eastern city of Benghazi,” Reuters writes. “Clashes over three days had already had already left 11 guards dead and set seven oil storage tanks on fire before Thursday evening’s car bombing.”
The NYT reports the Islamic State’s headquarters in Surt have “swelled with foreign fighters, including veterans of the wars in Iraq and Syria.” Factional feuds and divided government in Libya have made their invasion much easier.
International Business Times reports the Aamaq media operation, which has been linked to ISIS, said the Islamic State was behind the truck bombing, which it described as a “martyrdom operation.”
IBT notes that ISIS is secure enough in Libya to have declared itself in charge of three distinct sub-states, where it runs media operations, conducts military training, carries out executions and arrests, and enforces sharia law.
According to documents viewed by IBT reporters, the Islamic State is aggressively seeking to recruit “general engineers, oil and gas specialists, physicists and explosive specialists” to help manage its captured oil resources in Libya.