Bomb targets US mission in Libya’s Benghazi
BENGHAZI, Libya, June 6 — A bomb exploded outside the US diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi overnight, an attack that could be retaliation for the killing, in a US drone strike, of al Qaeda’s Libyan second-in-command.
An improvised explosive device was dropped from a vehicle outside the mission, in an upmarket area of central Benghazi. It exploded moments after, slightly damaging the building’s gate but no one was hurt, US and Libyan officials said.
Washington had confirmed a few hours before the attack that a US-operated drone had killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born cleric and senior al Qaeda operative, in Pakistan.
US diplomats said after the Benghazi blast they had asked the Libyan authorities to step up security at US facilities in the country, where last year Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in an uprising supported by NATO air power.
“The possibility that this act took place because of what happened to Abu Yahya is, in my personal opinion, a very strong one,” said Noman Benotman, a Libyan former Islamist who is now an expert on militant groups.
He said there were several possible scenarios, but one was that the attack was carried out by militants connected to al Qaeda’s north African arm.
“Al Qaeda loyalists maybe wanted to deliver a message to the US ...to say enough is enough,” Benotman said.
The bombing will revive concerns about the lack of security in Libya. The fragile government is still struggling to restore stability after last year’s revolt and arms and explosives looted from Gaddafi’s arsenals are easily available.
Tuesday’s attack was the first time a US facility had been targeted since Gaddafi was overthrown.
“We have asked the Libyan government to increase its security around US facilities,” an official at the US embassy in Tripoli told Reuters.
The street in Benghazi where the diplomatic mission is located was cordoned off on Wednesday. At the embassy building in Tripoli, three security guards were on duty but there was no evidence of any increased Libyan security presence.
A trade mission from the United States was scheduled to hold meetings starting on Thursday in Tripoli and Benghazi. It was not clear if these would now go ahead.
Amin Salam, of the National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said some delegates of the mission had arrived in Tripoli. “They may still go to Benghazi,” he said.
A spokesman for Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, Mohammed al-Harizy, said investigators had some leads on who may have carried out the attack.
He acknowledged that security was still a challenge for the new Libyan authorities. “There is no doubt that there is a weakness in security and there may be some people who will try to take advantage of this void,” he said.
Experts on militant groups had been predicting that the killing of Libi, described by US officials as a major blow to al Qaeda, would provoke some kind of backlash inside his home country.
Though he spent much of his life outside Libya, he was a member of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought an insurgency against Gaddafi in the 1990s, and his family is well known in Libya.
One of his brothers, Abu Bakr al-Gayed, told Reuters by telephone he knew nothing of the Benghazi attack. Asked if he thought there would be a reaction in Libya to Libi’s killing, he said only: “I don’t know, but the Muslim is the brother of the Muslim.”
Benghazi, Libya’s second city, has become a focus for insurgent-style attacks in the past few months.
On May 22, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the city, blasting a small hole in the building but causing no casualties.
A month earlier, a bomb was thrown at a convoy carrying the head of the UN mission to Libya.
Underscoring the lack of proper security in Libya, a disgruntled volunteer militia this week occupied Tripoli international airport for several hours, leaving bullet holes in at least one jet and forcing airlines to cancel flights.
Some observers have raised the prospect of a major insurgency breaking out in Libya along the lines of the violence that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Security experts though say this is unlikely, not least because, unlike in Iraq, the United States has no military presence in Libya. — Reuters