Gunmen killed at least three people and wounded 35 on Wednesday in a suicide attack on a court complex in the Libyan city of Misrata, officials and a witness said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement run by the group’s Amaq news agency it had targeted “one of the most prominent strongholds” of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord.
An armed coalition led by forces from Misrata under the GNA’s nominal command battled for more than six months last year to oust Islamic State from the militant group’s former stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, about 230 km (140 miles) southeast of Misrata.
Since then, militants have been trying to regroup in the desert south of Sirte. They have stepped up their presence in remote areas, though attacks in urban centers have been rare.
Wednesday’s attack was launched by several assailants who drove up to the complex in central Misrata in a black vehicle, a witness said. “One of them blew himself up at the gate and the other two with Kalashnikovs opened fire at random,” he said.
“Shooting could be heard all over the city center after the attack.”
The witness, who asked not to be named, said he believed the attackers had used rocket propelled grenades.
The military alliance from Misrata that led the campaign in Sirte said two suicide attackers had carried out the operation, and that there had been an explosion after a gun battle lasting about 20 minutes.
The attackers killed three and wounded 35, Misrata hospital said in a statement, listing names of victims.
Misrata, a large commercial port about 190 km east of Tripoli, is one of Libya’s major military power bases but the city itself has been largely immune from armed clashes and attacks in recent years.
Libya slid into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi six years ago. It remains divided between loose political and military alliances based in the east and west, resulting in a security vacuum in the center of the country.
As militants increased their activity in recent weeks to the south and east of Sirte, the United States launched two sets of air strikes against jihadist desert camps.
The US also provided air support for the Misrata-led campaign last year.