TRIPOLI: Gunmen stormed a hotel in Tripoli popular with diplomats and officials Tuesday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group, killing at least nine people including five foreigners before blowing themselves up.

After setting off a car bomb outside the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Libya’s capital, three armed militants rushed inside and opened fire, Issam al- Naass, a spokesman for the security services, told AFP. They made it to the 24th floor of the hotel, which is a major hub for diplomatic and government activity in Tripoli, before being surrounded by security forces and blowing themselves up, he said.

The dead included three security guards killed in the initial attack, five foreigners shot dead by the gunmen and a hostage who died when the attackers blew themselves up, he said. At least five people were also wounded during the assault, including two Filipina employees hurt by broken glass from the car bomb explosion, he said.

The nationalities of the foreigners killed and the person taken hostage were not immediately known, but Naass said two of the foreigners were women. The hotel’s 24th floor is normally used by Qatar’s mission to Libya but no diplomats or officials were present during the assault, a security source said. The head of Libya’s selfdeclared government, Omar al- Hassi, was also inside the hotel at the time of the attack but was evacuated safely, Naass said.

In a brief statement on Twitter, the Tripoli branch of the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack, the SITE Intelligence monitoring group said. It said it was carrying out the attack in honour of Abu Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda suspect who died in the United States earlier this month, days before facing a trial for bombing US embassies. Several militant groups in Libya have pledged allegiance to IS, the Sunni extremist organisation that has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic “caliphate”. Security forces loyal to Hassi’s government, which is jostling for power with the internationally backed authority of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, surrounded the building during the assault.

Ambulances, armoured vehicles and pick-up trucks with mounted artillery could be seen around the hotel during the assault. Security forces prevented journalists from entering the hotel after the assault, saying work was needed inside to ensure the assailants had not left behind booby traps. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini condemned the attack, calling it “another reprehensible act of terrorism which deals a blow to efforts to bring peace and stability to Libya.” She expressed “solidarity with the victims and their families” but made no mention of the nationalities of the dead.