- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Libyan branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that killed four foreigners and five security guards at a luxury hotel in Tripoli Tuesday, the most brazen assault to date in Libya by jihadists who’ve pledged allegiance to the extremist movement.

In an attack sparking new speculation about the Syria- and Iraq-based group’s widening reach into North Africa, the violence at the Corinthia Hotel triggered an hourslong standoff in the Libyan capital that ended when two gunmen ultimately killed themselves by setting off a grenade.

A division of the recently declared Islamic State in Libya — an outfit that intelligence officials say swore loyalty to Iraqi terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS or ISIL group in November — claimed credit for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a private firm that monitors such developments.

It was not clear immediately clear if the two assailants were the only militants involved in the attack. Some initial reports said there may have been as many as five gunmen.

The attack started in the morning hours and included a car bombing, said Essam al-Naas, a spokesman for a Tripoli security agency, The Associated Press reported. The news agency reported that Libya’s security forces responded and after several hours of a standoff, the attackers threw a grenade at the security forces, killing themselves and a security guard.

At least one Filipino woman and possibly other civilians were killed in the violence, said The New York Times, which cited news reports and people in contact with associates inside the hotel.

A senior U.S. State Department official confirmed to the AP that a U.S. citizen was among those killed.

Cliff Taylor, the CEO of a Virginia security company, Crucible LLC, identified the slain American as David Berry, a contractor with his company, AP reported.

Ten people were also wounded in the attack, including security guards and guests, the AP reported.

While waging war to create a caliphate across Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has also spent recent months attempting to open a front in North Africa, where affiliated militants are wreaking havoc in eastern Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, U.S. officials and counter-terrorism analysts said.

Through its savvy use of social media and slick production of recruitment videos, the Islamic State is attracting a growing number of young jihadis to its harsh interpretation of Islamic, or Shariah, law.

“ISIL’s stated goal of expanding its caliphate and its adherence to a strict form of Shariah has definitely resonated with a collection of extremists across North Africa, who appear to be mimicking ISIL’s rhetoric and brutality,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Washington Times in November.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss security issues freely, said the eastern Libyan city of Darna was viewed as “particularly vulnerable to ISIL inspiration.”

In early November, a group of militants claiming to control Darna declared allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

The militants were reportedly from the local Islamic Youth Shura Council, an extremist outfit that established itself in Darna in March.

Counter-terrorism analysts say al-Baghdadi responded by swiftly ordering one of his up-and-coming followers in Syria — a Yemeni with the nom de guerre Abu al-Baraa al-Azdi — to travel to Darna and serve as the Islamic State’s “emir” there.

It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday’s attacks in Tripoli were carried out by militants from the Darna-based group.

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