Cairo - A vehicle carrying Britain's ambassador to Libya has been attacked with rocket-propelled grenades in Benghazi, days after a bomb went off just outside the US consulate in the eastern city that was the cradle of last year's uprising.
Two of Ambassador Dominic Asquith's bodyguards were injured in the Monday attack. Britain's Foreign Office said the ambassador was not hurt, but the Libyan state news agency reported he was one of two people lightly injured.
“A convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya was involved in a serious incident in Benghazi,” Britain's Foreign Office said. “Two close protection officers were injured in the attack but all other staff are safe and uninjured,” it said, adding the British were working with Libyan authorities to determine who was behind the attack.
On Wednesday, a bomb went off next to the wall of the US consulate in Benghazi without causing any injuries.
A jihadist group calling itself “Brigades of imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman” claimed responsibility for the earlier attack on the US consulate, according to the SITE monitoring service. The group posted a message on jihadist forums Monday saying the attack was a response to the drone strike that killed al-Qaeda's second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi in North Waziristan on June 4 and to US drones flying in Libyan skies. It is named after the blind Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the US and was the spiritual leader of men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the claim and the group has not been heard from before. No one took responsibility for the latest attack on Monday.
The attacks were reminders of how chaotic, insecure and fragmented Libya remains eight months after an armed rebellion toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The transitional leadership based in the capital Tripoli has failed to impose its authority on much of the oil-rich North African nation. Instability has only increased as cities, towns, regions, militias and tribes all act on their own, setting up independent power centers.
Earlier this month, militiamen briefly occupied the country's main airport with armored vehicles and automatic weapons, forcing airport authorities to divert flights. In southern Libya, three days of clashes between an armed militia under the banner of the Libyan military and a tribe left at least three people dead before a truce on Monday.
In eastern Libya, the base of last year's armed rebellion, tribal leaders and militia commanders have formed their own transitional council as they push for a semiautonomous state in the oil-rich region. The move has angered the ruling council in Tripoli, which has said it fears the country will be torn apart.
Adding to Libya's uncertainty, the electoral commission postponed the country's first general elections to July 7 from June 19, allegedly to give candidates more time to campaign and voters more time to register. Elections are crucial for Libyans because they will be the first step toward democracy after 40 years of being ruled by Gaddafi's authoritarian whims. They will choose a 200-member assembly to form a government and select a committee to write the constitution.
Al-Senoussi al-Tarhouni, a militia commander in Benghazi who is part of a city security force, said the British ambassador was inside his car when it came under fire while pulling out of the British consulate. He said a driver and a bodyguard who were in the car next to the ambassador's car were injured.
Eastern Libya was known as a base of jihadists who waged a deadly insurgency against Gaddafi in the mid-1990s before the former ruler cracked down heavily on them and imprisoned hundreds. During the uprising, jihadists joined ranks with other Libyan citizens-turned-fighters during last year's uprising and fought against Gaddafi. Since then there were few reports about jihadist attacks, mainly targeting British warriors' graveyards that date back to World War II or shrines revered by Sufi rivals.
Abdel-Basit Haroun, another member of Benghazi's security militia, said of the attacks: “Yes we have jihadists, yes we have Islamists who want to impose Islamic Shariah law, but we don't have al-Qaeda.”
Haroun is one of hundreds of tribal leaders and militia commanders in the east pushing to form a semi-autonomous region. They say they fear more discrimination like what easterners suffered under Gaddafi. He voiced suspicions that the attacks on foreign diplomats were meant to hamper the easterners' quest for autonomy.
On Sunday, easterners formed a transitional council and named Ahmed al-Zubair, the country's longest serving political prisoner under Gaddafi, as the head. They called for boycotting elections as long as seats of the future assembly are not equally distributed among different regions.
They also deployed forces to an area called the Red Valley, which separates the east from the west of Libya, as part of a campaign to block the road between the two regions if the ruling transitional council does not respond to their demands. They threaten that they may try to seize key oil fields, concentrated mainly in the east.
Al-Zubair told The Associated Press that easterners also object to the whole road map put by out by the ruling council, which starts with elections.
“We have to have a constitution first that preserves the citizens' rights and that clearly sets the political system of the state. But having elections first is absurdity.”
In the south, a military spokesman Ali al-Sheikhi said that warring parties in the isolated southeastern town of Kufra have a reached a truce after nearly three days of clashes that left at least three dead. The fighting was in a border area where Libya, Chad and Sudan meet.
Al-Sheikhi said the government's Libya Deterrence Forces clashed with the Tabu tribe of African origins, which had long complained of discrimination under Gaddafi. He said the fighting started when his forces came under fire Saturday. The government troops were originally deployed to separate Tabu fighters from another powerful tribe of Arab origin called Zwia.
In February in Kufra, 990 kilometers from Benghazi, fighters from the Zwia tribe besieged the Tabu tribe in a battle for two weeks. - Sapa-AP