Libya forces quash gunmen after attack on state oil company

By Salma El Wardany, Saleh Sarrar and Hatem Mohareb on 9/10/2018

CAIRO and DUBAI (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s National Oil Corp. will carry out operations as usual across the country after security forces quashed a deadly attack on the state company’s headquarters in the capital Tripoli, the NOC’s chairman said.

All the attackers were killed, and security forces are now in control of the headquarters of the NOC, the most important revenue-generating government institution and a rare embodiment of unity in the divided country. Two employees were killed and 10 injured, the company said in a statement. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

“The National Oil Corp. will not be affected by such actions, and we are determined to carry out our mission,” Mustafa Sanalla, the NOC chairman, said in a phone interview. “We will continue with our job and our production normally.”

The attackers struck a stunning, if symbolic, blow against one of the few national institutions in Libya to have endured more than seven years of conflict and chaos after the ouster of former leader Moammar al-Qaddafi. The NOC has weathered the emergence of rival governments in the west and east of the country, and it continues to pump and export crude oil in spite of sporadic attacks by rival fighters and militias on fields, ports and other facilities.

Selling oil

Sanalla has served as the NOC’s chairman since May 2014 and has sought to remain neutral throughout Libya’s political turmoil. The 56-yr-old petrochemical engineer is credited for reasserting the authority of the Tripoli-based NOC against attempts by eastern parties to sell oil independently. Under his tenure, Libya signed contracts with international companies, ended a blockade of its ports and boosted production from 250,000 bpd.

Libya holds Africa’s largest proven reserves of crude oil. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, it pumped about 970,000 bpd in August, an increase of 310,000 from July. Even so, the output level is far below the 1.6 MMbpd Libya produced prior to the 2011 uprising against al-Qaddafi.

Monday’s attack could further complicate the fitful revival in Libya’s production and export of oil.

‘No impact’

“There has been no impact on production and operations,” Sanalla said in the NOC statement. “This incident, however, serves to demonstrate the fragile security situation in our country and the need for additional measures to ensure NOC is able to withstand those that seek to halt Libya’s recovery.”

Waha Oil Co., an NOC unit, ordered its Tripoli-based employees not to go to work on Tuesday and Wednesday for their safety and until further notice, it said on its website.

Security forces are now in control of the building after the deaths of all the attackers, Wissam Al-Messmari, a manager for the Petroleum Facilities Guard, said by phone from Tripoli. One of the gunmen was killed by security forces and the rest blew themselves up, he said. Police cordoned off the area, blocking all roads leading to the headquarters, and smoke could be seen rising from the building.

The attack on NOC headquarters followed several weeks of clashes in the capital between militias and government-backed units.

Scores of people have been killed in clashes that have pitted a militia based in the city of Tarhouna, about 100 km (60 mi) south of the capital, against forces aligned with the internationally backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The fighting initially broke out around the end of August.

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