TRIPOLI: Suicide bombers suspected of being from the Islamic State militant group stormed the headquarters of Libya's National Oil Company on Monday (Sep 10) and killed at least two people, officials said.
An oil company official, who asked not to be named, said masked gunmen had exchanged fire with guards and attacked NOC's headquarters in the capital Tripoli.
"I jumped out of the window with other colleagues, and then we heard an explosion," the official said.
The UN and the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) denounced what they called a "terrorist" attack.
The assault was the latest to target Libya's vital oil sector - which provides 95 per cent of state revenues - amid the chaos that has gripped the North African country since the 2011 uprising that toppled late dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Witnesses also spoke of hearing a blast and gunfire before security forces rapidly surrounded the headquarters and firefighters and rescuers arrived on the scene.
"Two NOC staff were killed in the attack. Additionally 10 employees were injured," the oil company said in a statement confirming a toll from the health ministry.
NOC said the assault began with "a number of explosions inside the building and intense shooting" then a number of staff were "temporarily held hostage" before security forces intervened and freed them.
NOC chairman Mustafa Sanallah, who was among those evacuated from the five-storey building, praised the "swift response of the emergency services and the security teams" who helped put an end to the attack, the statement said.
Ahmed Ben Salem, a spokesman for the Deterrence Force, a militia that operates as Tripoli's police force, said the remains of two "suicide bombers" were found inside the building.
Tripoli security chief Salah al-Semoui blamed the Islamic State group for the attack, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
'ERADICATE SCOURGE OF TERRORISM'
Pictures of the purported remains were posted on the Force's Facebook page.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) denounced a "cowardly terrorist attack", calling it in a statement a "blow against Libyans everywhere".
UNSMIL urged Libyans "to desist from futile side conflicts and come together, in partnership with the international community, to eradicate the scourge of terrorism across the country".
It was referring to clashes between Aug 27 and Sep 4 among armed groups in Tripoli that left at least 63 people dead before a fragile UN-backed ceasefire took hold.
Sanallah said the assault "serves to demonstrate the fragile security situation in our country and the need for additional measures to ensure NOC is able to withstand those that seek to halt Libya's recovery".
The UN-backed GNA government also blamed "terrorists" for the attack.
The targeting of the NOC offices comes four months after suicide bombers struck the headquarters of Libya's electoral commission, killing 14 in an attack claimed by IS.
The militants overran Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, 600 kilometres (370 miles) east of Tripoli, in 2015.
They were ousted by government forces and allied militias in December 2016, but have continued to carry out attacks.
VITAL AND COVETED SECTOR
Libya's oil sector has been repeatedly disrupted by violence since the NATO-backed rebellion that killed Gaddafi, as two rival governments and a range of armed groups struggle for control of the country's resources.
NOC was forced to suspend exports from all four of the country's key eastern terminals after military strongman Khalifa Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army regained full control of the region from a rival militia in June.
The company declared force majeure on oil loadings at the ports, a legal measure that frees parties to a contract from their obligations due to circumstances beyond their control.
The move added to supply worries on world markets at a time of rising crude oil prices.
But in July NOC announced production would resume at the ports of Al-Hariga, Zweitina, Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra, which are conduits for much of the country's crude and gas sales.
Libya's economy relies heavily on oil, with production at 1.6 million barrels per day under former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with exports representing more than 95 per cent of Lib yan revenues.
Gaddafi's ouster in 2011 saw production fall to about 20 per cent of that level, before recovering to more than one million barrels per day by the end of 2017.
The OPEC oil cartel has estimated Libya's oil reserves at 48 billion barrels, which makes them the biggest in Africa.
Last week, NOC announced plans aimed at boosting oil revenues by 80 per cent to US$23 billion, compared with US$13 billion in 2017.
Despite disruptions this year, its revenues from the start of the year to the end of July reached US$13.6 billion, exceeding the total figure for 2017.