By Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A counter-terrorism unit in the Libyan capital Tripoli said it suspected a car bomb that went off on Saturday near the Italian embassy was planted by backers of a rival force in the divided country's east.
The blast occurred in central Tripoli about 350 meters from the recently reopened embassy. The bodies of two men were recovered from the wreckage of the car.
"This terrorist act is a result of political conflict between east and west," the city's Special Deterrence Force (Rada) said in a statement late on Wednesday that signaled it held the Libyan National Army (LNA) responsible.
The dead men had been trying to target the embassy, but had been prevented from parking their car near the compound's walls, Rada said.
Eastern officials did not respond to the comments.
Both Libya and Tripoli itself are home to myriad armed groups with shifting and conflicting loyalties that have sought to fill the power vacuum created when long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011.
In 2014, fighting between armed alliances backing opposing political factions resulted in rival governments being set up in the capital and the east.
Since March last year a third, U.N.-backed government has been trying to establish itself in Tripoli, but it has been unable to win support from groups in the east aligned with the government there and the LNA.
The LNA has made significant gains over the past year in its "Operation Dignity" campaign against Islamist-led opponents in the eastern city of Benghazi, and has pushed west to control key oil facilities. It has said it is preparing to "liberate" Tripoli.
Many doubt it has the capacity to do so, but the claim has led to speculation that it is trying to lay the ground for a military takeover.
"According to the investigations the perpetrators of the terrorist act are connected with what is known as Operation Dignity, but it's still unclear if it was an individual act or on Operation Dignity's orders," Rada added.
It gave the names of the two suspects whose bodies had been found in the car, also naming a third suspect who it said was still at large.
Libya's conflict has been complicated by foreign meddling, with regional states accused of supplying money and arms to both the LNA and its rivals based in western Libya.
Last week, an Emirati who was arrested in Tripoli in late 2015 on suspicion of spying and had been held in detention since then was shot dead.
The United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, has close ties to eastern-based factions and the LNA, though they have publicly supported the U.N.-mediated attempt to form a unity government.
Sadiq al-Sour, head of the attorney general's investigations department, said on Wednesday that the Emirati had been killed by a Libyan intelligence officer who was himself shot dead in subsequent clashes. He did not explain why the Emirati had been killed.
There was no immediate response from Emirati officials.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and John Stonestreet)