TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Suspected Islamic militants attacked the security headquarters in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi early on Friday, killing eight soldiers and policemen and wounding 24, a security official said.
The official said the attack started when dozens of unidentified gunmen opened fire and fired mortar shells at the security building. The onslaught lasted for an hour and the gunfire and the shelling was heard from miles away.
Libyan commandos were sent to the scene and engaged with the attackers but sustained heavy casualties in the battle. Six commandos and two policemen were killed.
In this Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 file photo, Libyan military guards check one of the U.S. Consulate's burnt out buildings during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, not shown, to the U.S. Consulate to express sympathy for the death of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the deadly attack on the Consulate last Tuesday, September 11, in Benghazi, Libya. Britain's Foreign Office urged U.K. nationals to immediately leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in response to an imminent threat against Westerners. The Arabic on the building reads, "God is Great, and there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger." (AP)
A local hospital official said some of the slain troops were badly butchered and their bodies burned before the attackers fled the scene.
The official said his hospital was also treating the 24 wounded in the fighting, most of whom had gunshot wounds to the chest and the abdomen. Some were in critical condition, he said.
The security official said four troops were also missing after the battle. A number of militants was believed to have been wounded in the fighting, he said, but they did not seek medical help in any of the local hospitals.
The officials said the attackers likely unsuccessfully tried to get their hands on a car loaded with weapons and ammunition that the security forces had confiscated the previous night.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that led to the downfall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has since witnessed a series of attacks, assassinations and bombings, mostly targeting military and police who served under the ousted ruler.
Libya has seen a severe deterioration in security and the government has depended on unruly militias to fill the security vacuum in the absence of a strong police force or a unified military.
On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in front of a military compound in Benghazi, killing two soldiers and wounding two others.