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Security in Libya worse since attack U.S. consulate in Benghazi

Sep. 11, 2013 - 07:06PM   |  
People gather to look at the site of a car bombing in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.
People gather to look at the site of a car bombing in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. (Mohammed el-Shaiky / AP)
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TRIPOLI, LIBYA — A year to the day since an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi that killed four Americans including the ambassador Christopher Stevens, the security situation in Libya has gone from bad to worse, say locals and analysts.

On Wednesday morning, unknown assailants detonated a car bomb near Benghazi’s Foreign Ministry building that decades ago housed the U.S. Consulate, security officials said. No one was killed in the blast.

It is the latest in a string of bombings and assassination attempts plaguing Benghazi, the cradle of the Libyan revolution, which ended with the death in late 2011 of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

In the United States, the families of those killed a year ago at the consulate say the Obama administration has yet to tell them what really happened, and why it is that none of the killers has been captured or killed.

It’s hard, I never expected this from my government,” Patricia Smith, mother of Sean Smith, told Fox News. “All they have to do is tell me the truth.”

Sean Smith was an information officer at the consulate who was among four people killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

President Obama and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton initially blamed the attacks on a spontaneous protest against a U.S.-made anti-Islam video despite a CIA report that discounted that explanation. Smith and other family members say the State Department and the White House have rebuffed their attempts to find out why security was so lax under Clinton, and why Obama did not order military assistance to the embattled officials that night.

The White House has said it has provided all the information it can on the attack, and Obama alluded to Benghazi as a “phony scandal.” Meanwhile, those responsible for murdering the Americans that night are presumably still in Libya or the region.

Obama said last month that the U.S. was still committed to capturing those who carried out the assault. Obama said his government has a sealed indictment naming some suspected of involvement.

The leaders of an independent review board that investigated the Benghazi attack will testify at a House hearing next week. Retired Adm. Michael Mullen and former ambassador Thomas Pickering will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Sept. 19.

Meanwhile, in the two years since Libya was freed of Gadhafi due in large part to a Western air campaign aiding rebels, the country has failed to build a stable government, strong military or police force.

Militias policing towns can’t keep militants out, and the southern borders remain porous, allowing easy travel for al-Qaida-linked groups flush with cash.

“There are Islamist militias from the east who run drug-trafficking routes from southern Libya to the coast — that is how al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is funded,” said Jeli Ali, a Tuareg member of the reconciliation committee in Ubari, a town deep in the desert south of the country. “We have been asking for a strong government for three years (and are still waiting).”

Groups that took part in the civil war continue to hold significant amounts of weaponry, and some work with the militants, analysts say. Even so, no one is still sure who has been behind the rising violence.

Wednesday’s bomb blew out a side wall of the building, leaving desks, filing cabinets and computers strewn among the concrete rubble. It also damaged the Benghazi branch of the Libyan Central Bank along a major thoroughfare in the city.

The Foreign Ministry used the building to provide government services to Libyans and foreigners in the eastern region, which is hundreds of miles away from the capital, Tripoli.

The explosion came a day after authorities found and defused another bomb next to the Foreign Ministry building in Tripoli, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said.

Deputy Interior Minister Sadik Abdel-Karim said the country’s security situation was “deteriorating.”

“The message has been delivered to every Libyan — especially in Benghazi,” he said.

Some in the city blame Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia for the attacks including the one Sept. 11 on the American Consulate. After that attack, Benghazi residents marched on Ansar al-Sharia’s Benghazi headquarters and officially drove the militia out of the city. But, unofficially, Ansar al-Sharia never left.

Analysts say the rise in violence comes as a result of the struggle between the central government and groups such as the militia, whose base of power goes back before the overthrow of Gadhafi and is partly based on tribal alliances.

“Some elements don’t like the ways the central government has taken things and so have seized power,” said Helen Twist, manager of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“There has been increasing criminality because there wasn’t ever a successful weapons collection or reconciliation program. Weapons remain in the community and as a result, militias are well-armed.”

Twist said there is also the issue of border control with neighboring Algeria and Tunisia, which have contributed to the problem.

“I think Libya needs to work in a coordinated way with its neighbors on border security and also deal with the issue of corruption, which is what gives the militias power,” she added.

Former Interior minister Ashour Shwayl said that as long as the military and police are not in place, the turmoil will continue.

“To sum it up, there is no solution but for the police, military and judiciary are built up,” Shwayl told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Chaos otherwise will remain.”

Car bombs and drive-by shootings since the end the civil war also routinely kill security officials in Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising.

“Even with so many officials assassinated, no one is held accountable,” said Tawfiq Breik, a lawmaker with the liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance. “No one is arrested. The state is disabled.”

Bhatti reported from Amman, Jordan

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