Middle East

Car bomb explodes in central Tripoli, near Italy embassy: security official

A car bomb exploded late on Saturday close to the recently re-opened Italian embassy in the Libyan capital, a security official said.

It was not clear who was responsible for the blast. Two charred bodies were recovered from the car, according to a statement on a social media page run by a local branch of the Red Crescent, but the identity of the occupants was unknown.

Some vehicles parked nearby were also hit, but damage from the blast, which could be heard at least a kilometer away, was limited.

The security official, who did not want to be named, said it appeared that explosives had been planted in the car.

The blast occurred next to the Ministry of Planning and near the Egyptian embassy, which is closed. The Italian embassy is some 350 meters away.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said roads had been cordoned off near the site of the blast, and dozens of security officials and vehicles had been deployed in the area. The wreckage of the car that exploded was quickly removed.

Italy became the first Western country to reopen its embassy in Tripoli earlier this month. Most countries closed their embassies here in 2014 and early 2015 after heavy fighting and attacks in the city.

Tripoli is home to a large number of rival militias, some of which oppose the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) that Italy has strongly supported.

The Islamic State group is known to have sleeper cells in Tripoli, and it has claimed attacks there in the past, including against embassies.

The GNA backed a recent seven-month campaign to oust Islamic State from its former North African stronghold of Sirte, about 450 km (280 miles) east of Tripoli.

The re-opening of the Italian embassy drew protests from factions in eastern Libya who oppose the GNA and are aligned with a rival government based there.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Larry King, G Crosse)

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