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Militants attack central Libyan oil field, kill 8 in latest assault on petroleum facilities

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Militants attacked an oil field in central Libya on Friday, killing eight guards before setting it ablaze in the latest in a spate of attacks on petroleum facilities blamed on a local Islamic State affiliate.

The gunmen attacked al-Ghani oil field near the town of Zalla, some 750 kilometers (470 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli, National Oil Corporation spokesman Mohammed al-Harari told The Associated Press. He said black smoke filled the sky above the facility.

A company statement said the attackers came from the north, an apparent reference to the city of Sirte, seized by an Islamic State affiliate last month. Since then several attacks have been launched on nearby oil sites, but no one has claimed responsibility.

"Initial information shows that the group targeted the field, sabotaged its contents and caused extensive damage," the statement said. It added that workers and employees were evacuated to the town of Zalla, about 60 kilometers from the field.

It was not immediately clear if the militants seized control of the field or fled.

The attacks in recent weeks have forced Libya to declare 11 fields non-operational, including al-Ghani, and invoke a force majeure clause that exempts the state from contractual obligations.

Three years after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, Libya is bitterly divided between two rival governments and a wide array of militias. The internationally recognized government and parliament were forced to relocate to the country's far east after Tripoli fell to Islamist-allied militias last summer.

The turmoil has provided fertile ground for militants allied with the Islamic State group, who control Darna in eastern Libya as well as Sirte, and have carried out several deadly suicide bombings across the country. In January, they stormed a luxury hotel in Tripoli, and in February released a video showing the beheading of 21 captured Egyptian Christians. The Egyptian military launched airstrikes on Darna in retaliation.

Libya's oil production has meanwhile dropped to about 25 percent of normal levels. It recently reached 500,000 barrels per day, according to Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zewi.

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