Libya militants attack Benghazi security headquarters, killing 8 troops and police

Military personnel stand near the damaged entrance to an army camp after a suicide bombing in Benghazi, April 29, 2014.

TRIPOLI, Libya -- 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.

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 Muammar Qaddafi, has since witnessed a series of attacks, assassinations and bombings, mostly targeting military and police who served under the ousted ruler.

The city was also the scene of a 2012 attack on two U.S. diplomatic outposts, which left U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

The Obama administration came under fire once again this week for its response to that attack -- both its immediate military response and its rhetorical response in the days following the assault. The White House was forced onto the defensive again, insisting that the initial assessment given by administration officials was based on "what we knew at the time," and not a deliberate effort to mislead the American public about the nature of the attack.

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.