Multiple suicide car bombings struck an eastern Libyan town, killing at least 45 people on Friday not far from a main base of the Islamic State group’s Libyan offshoot.
The group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it came in retaliation for recent Egyptian airstrikes that avenged the beheading of 21 Christian hostages by Libyan Islamic State militants.
The massive bombings rocked the town of Qubba, which is under control of the country’s internationally recognized government and about 30 kilometers from Darna a stronghold of Libya’s Islamic State branch.
In a statement posted on social networking sites, the group said two of the “Caliphate’s knights” carried out the bombings, targeting what they described as a Libyan army operations room.
The deadliest bombing was carried by an attacker who rammed an explosives-packed ambulance into a gas station where motorists were lined up, army spokesman Mohammed Hegazi said.
“Imagine a car packed with a large amount of explosives striking a gas station; the explosion was huge and many of the injured are in very bad shape while the victims’ bodies were torn into pieces,” Hegazi said.
Two other bombers detonated vehicles next to the house of the parliament speaker and the nearby security headquarters in Qubba.
“They wanted to hit two birds with one stone,” Hegazi said.
The death toll was expected to rise. Two security officials say at least 45 people were killed.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Government Spokesman Mohammed Bazaza put the death toll at 42.
The Islamic State group, however, claimed there were only two suicide bombings; pictures posted by the group showed two masked suicide bombers dressed in black prior to the attacks.
The discrepancy in the number of bombings could not immediately be reconciled. The elected Libyan government and parliament announced a seven-day mourning period.
The bombings underscored the turmoil that has consumed this North Africa country. They came a week after a video was released showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians at the hands of Libya’s Islamic State group branch.
The brutal slayings prompted Egyptian airstrikes on Darna and raised concerns that the extremist group has spread beyond the battlefields of Iraq and Syria and established a strategic foothold less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy.