British convoy attacked in Libya

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Copy of iol news pic libya flag REUTERS

Benghazi - A British diplomatic convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Libya's second city Benghazi on Monday, leaving one person injured in the most serious of a spate of assaults on foreign targets, local security officials said.

Some analysts have blamed the attacks in the eastern city on Islamists militants exploiting the security vacuum left after Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow in an uprising last year.

The convoy was hit about 300 metres (yards) from the British consulate office in Benghazi's al-Rabha neighbourhood. A Reuters reporter at the scene said police had cordoned off the area. A damaged but still intact car windscreen could be seen lying on the ground.

One Libyan security official told Reuters the injured person was wounded in the shoulder. “There was a lot of blood in the car that took him to hospital,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A source from the government's high security committee said the rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the front of the vehicle, blowing out the windscreen. Many Western diplomats in Libya use armoured vehicles.

The injured man was one of the British security personnel, said the source. “The wounds are minor,” he said. “He is now at the hospital. There is tight security at the hospital.”

Benghazi was the cradle of the uprising last year which ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule, but is now a hot spot for violence, with arms readily available and state security forces struggling to assert their authority.

Security experts say the area around the city is host to a number of Islamist militant groups who oppose any Western presence in Muslim countries.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed a British embassy convoy had been attacked in Benghazi in the afternoon. “All staff are accounted for and we are liaising closely with the Libyan authorities,” the spokesman said.

A third Libyan security source said the convoy was leaving a restaurant, close to the embassy office, when the attack happened.

“We are looking into who is responsible, an investigation is under way,” the source said.

Monday's attack happened five days after an explosive device was dropped from a passing car outside the offices of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The blast that followed slightly damaged the gate in front of the building.

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 in Benghazi, a bomb was thrown at a convoy carrying Ian Martin, the head of the United Nations mission in Libya. No one was hurt.

The attacks on their diplomatic missions will be jarring for London and Washington because they have been widely feted in Libya for leading, along with France, the air assault that helped force out Gaddafi last year.

The worst case scenario for Western governments is that the spate of attacks could be the start of an Iraq-style insurgency by Islamist militants. That could have an impact on oil exports because the energy sector depends on foreign workers.

However, security analysts say an insurgency is unlikely to gain the kind of momentum it did in Iraq, mainly because Western states have no military presence on the ground in Libya. - Reuters


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