A suicide bomber has killed eight Libyan army troops near the eastern city of Benghazi, an attack that showed the Islamic State group is still able to strike out in the North African country despite recent battlefield losses, Libyan security and health officials said Monday.
The Sunday bombing in the besieged Ganfouda area was a counterattack on the advancing troops that also wounded another eight soldiers, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
IS claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement circulated online, releasing images of an explosion hitting parked vehicles and buildings it said was taken from a drone.
"The fighting in Ganfouda is in its last stage, and terrorist group leaders are besieged inside,'' army spokesman Ahmed al-Mosmari said. Ganfouda is one of the last two extremist-held areas in Libya's east, besieged by Libyan army troops that answer to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
Earlier this month, the Islamic State group lost control the city of Sirte, the militants' main stronghold in Libya, essentially ending any near-term ambitions to expand their self-styled caliphate.
But that victory has opened the door for multiple armed factions to potentially turn on each other in a scramble for control of Libya's vast oil wealth, the country's only source of real revenue.
A U.N.-brokered peace deal was reached a year ago, trying to establish a unity government to end the chaos that has plagued Libya since the ouster and death of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in a 2011 civil war. Instead, Libya remains divided between east and west, with no effective government and rival factions and militias — each side with backing from different foreign countries.
This month an escalation of violence between armed groups in the capital, Tripoli, prompted the U.N. Security Council to urge the parties to cease fighting, as fears grow that fresh conflict could erupt around the oil fields.
Libya is split into two governments, with a parliament in the east that has refused to approve the U.N.-brokered government in Tripoli. Hifter backs Libya's last elected parliament, which is based in the east, against rival militias loyal to the Tripoli government.