The attack bore all the traits of Islamic State in Iraq. A small unit of militants, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and suicide belts, hit the Tripoli prison just before sunrise.
Blasting though a wall, four fighters worked their way through the heavily guarded compound before firing a rocket-propelled grenade to breach the cells inside.
Their target, security sources say, was a jailed Libyan Islamic State militant. Clashes erupted. Two of the attackers, a Moroccan and a Sudanese, detonated suicide belts and shortly afterwards all four, and the militant, were dead.
The prison break failed. But it was another illustration of the tactics employed by an Islamic State front determined to emulate the success of the group’s founders in Iraq and Syria.
“When we see them fighting, they are well trained. There were only four, but they destabilized the whole base,” said Muaad Khalil, a spokesman for forces at the Maitiga base. “Who would have thought to attack this base, but they did.” Four years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is locked in a conflict between two rival governments — an official one in the east, and a self-declared one controlling Tripoli — and the many armed factions that back them.