Gulf of Sidra, Cyrenaica and Benghazi
Activity in the east of Libya was dominated by the attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi on the evening of 11 September; when armed demonstrators stormed the consulate. The attack was reported to have been sparked after a segment of a 'fringe' film which was made in the US was translated into Arabic and aired on a number of regional satellite channels. The film was described as anti-Islamic and particularly defamatory of the Prophet Mohamed. In the violence that ensued, the US ambassador to Libya (Christopher Stevens) was one of four US consulate staff killed. Stevens was believed to have been visiting the consulate from the main US Embassy in Tripoli.
Unconfirmed reports claimed that Stevens and the three other died when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) struck their vehicle as they attempted to leave the area. Several other consulate personnel were reported wounded. The assault on the consulate came hours after crowds had stormed the US Embassy in Cairo in protest to the film. A number of subsequent protests over the film have occurred against US embassies and consulates across the Islamic world.
Prior to the storming of the consulate, reports claimed that a number of heavily armed men arrived in the area of the initial demonstration, citing these as responsible for the subsequent assault on the compound. Some reports are linking the hard-line Islamist group ‘Ansar al-Sharia’ with the attack, while other reports claimed that Qadhafi-loyalists were involved. Some security commentators have also claimed that the storming was a well planned terrorist attack, linking it to a recent statement made by the Al-Qaeda (AQ) leader Ayman Al Zawahiri, which urged Libyan's to avenge the recent death of senior AQ commander and ex-Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) member Abu Yahya Al Libi, who was killed in a US ‘drone’ strike in Pakistan in June 2012.
Reports also claimed that several Libyan guards and security force members were killed and wounded defending the consulate. Subsequent reports have claimed that personnel from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have deployed to Benghazi to investigate the attack. Additional US Marines are also reported to have been deployed to bolster security at the main embassy in Tripoli.
National Assembly Spokesman Mohammed Magarief and several other high-ranking officials were quick to condemn the attack and asserted that the government of Libya would pursue those who took part in the attack. Magarief also said that Libya expects international assistance in restoring security to the country and that security forces would intensify security measures around embassies and diplomatic missions. Protests in support of the US were also reported to have taken place in both Tripoli and Benghazi in the days following the attack.
Several media reports have claimed that US surveillance ‘drones’ are now actively searching for extremist encampments in the Benghazi and eastern Cyrenaica area. According to one report, the plan is for the drones to gather intelligence and hand the information across to Libyan authorities, allowing Libyan forces to then take action.
The immediate aftermath of the attack against the US Consulate may deter some foreign investment (particularly from US companies) at least in the short term. A number of US associated companies have been reported to have withdrawn some staff from Libya as a precautionary measure. The Libyan government will now be under a degree of pressure to reassure foreign missions and companies that they can provide adequate security across Libya and take positive action against militant elements, particularly in the east of the country.