TRIPOLI (Reuters) - At least two people were killed when three car bombs exploded near interior ministry and security buildings in the Libyan capital on Sunday, the first lethal attack of its kind since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall last year, security sources said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, the latest examples of the violence that has remained a problem in Libya despite the peaceful transfer of power to the new government after elections in July, the first in decades.
Gaddafi’s overthrow and death, after 42 years of eccentric personal rule, left a power vacuum that was filled by local militias and other armed groups that security forces have struggled to subdue, and sporadic shootings and explosions.
Ambulances and firefighters rushed to the scenes of Sunday’s blasts, in residential areas in central Tripoli, and large numbers of police were deployed to cordon off the sites and remove the charred vehicles and other debris.
The first bomb blew up near the interior ministry’s administrative offices in Tripoli but caused no casualties, the sources said. On arriving at the site, police found another car bomb that had not blown up.
Minutes later, two car bombs exploded near the former headquarters of a women’s police academy, which the defense ministry has been using for interrogations and detentions, the sources said, killing two civilians and wounding three.
The blasts, which caused minor damage to the two buildings and shattered windows of nearby cars and buildings, took place early in the day as worshippers prepared for mass morning prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of the fasting month Ramadan.
“The (victims) were two young men in their 20s. They drove past the police academy precisely at the time of the explosion,” a security source said.
Security sources said they had no immediate clues to who had planted the bombs and had received no claims of responsibility.
A surge of violence during Ramadan included a car bomb in Tripoli near the offices of the military police and an explosion at the empty former military intelligence offices in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the revolt against Gaddafi.
The latest attacks will test the mettle of the national assembly, which made improving security a priority when it took power earlier this month from the National Transitional Council of opposition forces that toppled Gaddafi.
Its main task will be imposing its authority on numerous armed groups, mostly militias who took part in the uprising, who refuse to lay down their weapons. Disarming them remains a challenge.
The 200-member assembly will name a new prime minister who will pick his government, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.
The persistent violence has affected Libya’s relations with other countries and international organizations whose help it needs in its drive for stability, security and economic reconstruction.
The International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it was suspending its activities in Benghazi, Libya’s second biggest city, and Misrata after one of its compounds in Misrata was attacked with grenades and rockets.
The fate of seven Iranian relief workers, official guests of the Libyan Red Crescent Association, remains unknown almost three weeks after they were kidnapped by gunmen in the heart of Benghazi.
Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Tim Pearce