A suicide bomb blast killed at least 68 police recruits and injured nearly 150 others at a training camp in Zliten, western Libya, on Thursday in the deadliest terror attack to hit the country.
The attack has not yet been claimed but bears the hallmarks of the Libyan Islamic State Group, which is headquartered in the central city of Sirte – 280km east of Zliten. It has previously attacked security guards loyal to the self-declared government in Tripoli and declared war against both camps in the Libyan conflict.
Early on Thursday morning, two militants in a water truck loaded with explosives drove into Zliten’s police training camp and detonated it as 400 recruits were performing their morning exercises. The facility, previously known as Jahfal Military Base, is located on the coastal road in a neighborhood of Zliten known as Souq al-Thulatha. The recruits were from the coastguard, which is part of the Interior Ministry of the unofficial Tripoli government.
“At exactly 8.10am the water storage truck appeared at the police college gates, two militants opened fire on the guards and then crashed the vehicle through the gates,” said Captain Adel Arhuma, who is posted to a nearby security forces camp and who rushed to the scene to assist the wounded.
“They drove at high speed into the middle of the square during the morning gathering, when there were at least 400 people – students and trainers – present and detonated the explosives. All that is left is the chassis,” he added.
Only 15 of the dead have been identified so far – nearly 150 have been wounded, most of them critically.
At 10:30 local time Zliten Municipality said that the number of dead exceeded 20 and that over 40 had been hospitalized. But by midday, sources at Zliten Hospital said the death toll had risen to 65, and the figure was later raised to 68.
“We expect the death toll to keep rising. The wounded are being treated in Misrata and Zliten,” Arhuma added.
The Health Ministry of the Tripoli government declared a state of emergency and called on hospitals in nearby Misrata and Tripoli to receive all cases referred to them. Zliten Hospital also issued an urgent appeal for blood donations, as well as asking for more doctors and medical supplies to cope with the emergency.
Initial reports about other simultaneous attacks in Zliten were later denied.
The Zliten Municipal Council announced a funeral prayer on Thursday afternoon at the local sports city.
Both the House of Representatives – Libya’s official parliament based in Tobruk in the east – and its rival in Tripoli – the General National Congress – separately declared three days of national mourning in response to the attack.
From its headquarters in Bayda, eastern Libya, the HoR government offered to provide medical supplies to the hospitals treating the wounded.
Representatives of the international community have also condemned the attack, calling for national unity to face the IS Group.