Terrorists launched a bomb and gun attack on a Libyan hotel popular with government ministers and Western diplomats Tuesday, killing up to five people.
One American citizen was among the dead, NBC News’ Paul Nassar reported. A handful of other Americans were evacuated after the attack.
Guests fled the waterfront Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli after the attack began shortly after 9 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). A car bomb later exploded nearby.
“It is more than likely that there are hostages held by the gunmen on the 23rd floor,” Essam Naas, a spokesman for Tripoli security forces, told Reuters. “The security forces are evacuating the guests floor by floor. There was shooting between the gunmen and the security forces.”
However, Mahmoud Hamza, commander of Libya’s Special Deterrent Force, told private satellite television station al-Nabaa that the situation was “under control,” though he couldn’t confirm the whereabouts of the gunmen.
Five foreigners were killed inside the hotel, The Associated Press quoted Hamza as saying. NBC News could not immediately confirm that report.
A hotel worker told the AP that there were five masked attackers and they had fired randomly at the staff in the lobby. The staffer, who did not want to be identified, said Italian, British and Turkish guests were staying at the hotel but that it was largely empty at the time of the attack.
The worker said colleagues and foreign guests fled out the hotel’s back doors into the parking lot. When they got there, he said a car bomb exploded only 100 yards away.
The Maltese-owned hotel is popular with diplomats and lawmakers from Libya’s chaotic rival governing factions. It was home to ex-PM Ali Zeidan when he was was kidnapped by militia in 2013.
The area around the scene was sealed off by people wearing police uniforms.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. The SITE monitoring service reported a militant group claiming affiliation with ISIS had claimed responsibility, adding it was in revenge for the recent death in custody of Abu Anas al-Libi. Al-Libi, 50, was alleged to have helped plan the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. He died in New York while awaiting trial earlier this month.
Malta Today published security images of what it said were the suspected attackers. NBC News could not immediately verify the report.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter that all Maltese citizens at Corinthia were “currently in a safe location.”
Matthew Dixon, commercial director of the Corinthia Hotel Group, said: “The situation is unfolding in front of us. We have no further information above and beyond what is being reported locally.
“At the moment we have not had contact with the hotel abut we’re monitoring the situation here and from our headquarters in Malta.”
“We’re thinking about our guests. This is a complex and difficult situation and we wait to see how the day unfolds.”
Giuma Bukleb, a spokesman for the Libyan Embassy in London, said he did not have any information about the nationality of the hostages or the attack itself.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.