Libya official: Car bombs explode near LNA leaders, 4 killed

RAMI MUSA AND NOHA ELHENNAWY
FILE - In this June 15, 2019, file photo, a vehicle and structure is damaged from fighting in the region of Tajoura, east of the Libyan capital Tripoli. The battle between rival militias for the Libyan capital has killed more than 1,000 people since it began in April, the U.N. said Tuesday, a grim milestone in a stalemated conflict partly fueled by regional powers. (AP Photo/Hamza Turkia, File)

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — At least two bomb-laden vehicles exploded Thursday near a group of Libyan National Army leaders in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi, killing four people and wounding 33 others and casting doubt on the LNA's 3-month-old offensive on Tripoli, the U.N.-backed government's capital.

The spokesman for the Benghazi-based rival government's Interior Ministry, Tarek El-Kharraz, said several senior LNA figures, including the commander of LNA special forces, had gathered in western Benghazi to attend the funeral service of a high-ranking military general.

El-Kharraz said the dead in the attack included two civilians and two soldiers, and the wounded included civilians, army personnel and police. He said none of the military leaders was killed or wounded.

LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said later there were three explosions and accused the U.N.-supported government of financing the attackers, but provided no evidence.

Since Moammar Gadhafi's ouster in 2011, Libya has been split between rival governments in the east and the west and an array of militias fighting over power and oil fields. The LNA, loyal to the rival government in the east, launched an offensive on Tripoli in April, setting off fierce fighting that has threatened to plunge the country into another bout of violence on the scale of the 2011 conflict that ousted longtime dictator Gadhafi and led to his death.

The LNA offensive on Tripoli led by Field Marshall Khalifa Hifter has been widely criticized by the U.N. and aid agencies. Over 1,000 people have been killed in the violence, most of them combatants but also civilians, and thousands have been displaced.

Shortly after the explosions Thursday, Hifter ordered an investigation into the attack.

According to El-Kharraz, the east-based government recently arrested a group of collaborators inside Benghazi who were in touch with Tripoli-based militias. During interrogation, they confessed that there were other cells of collaborators inside the LNA stronghold.

Col. Khalifa Alobiedi, a military engineer and expert on explosive devices present at the bomb site, said initial findings suggested the attack was caused by two bomb-laden cars. He pointed to two burnt vehicles about 10 meters (yards) apart.

According to Khalil Gwaider, a media officer with the Benghazi medical center, 20 of the 33 wounded suffered moderate to severe injuries while the rest were discharged after receiving first aid.

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Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.