It is sad to report that this week seems to have seen a deterioration in the general security situation, whether in Tripoli or Benghazi. The week began badly with the carbomb that detonated outside the French Embassy in Tripoli on 23rd April and finished on 28th April with the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of the Interior being surrounded by armed men and vehicles in protest in favour of the banning of former Gaddafi officials from public office under the still to be passed Political Isolation bill.
The attack on the French Embassy has sparked a wider concern of further attacks against prominent buildings and institutions leading to greater stand-off from parked cars being imposed by the Libyan authorities in the business district in Tripoli.
The east of the country has not been exempt from violence this week either, with a large explosion hitting Barka police station in Benghazi on 27th April and a number of targeted killings. The general air of lawlessness has been added to by the report from Reporters Without Borders concerning widespread intimidation of journalists across the country.
Tripolitania (Western Libya)
The car bomb against the French Embassy in Tripoli occurred early in the morning on 23rd April. It wounded two French security guards and a Libyan civilian. The blast did significant damage. However it is surprising given the time of detonation with people going to work that there were not more casualties. Despite the blast most of the international diplomatic community has remained open for business. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and it is unclear whether it is directly targeting French interests based on their intervention in Mali or is part of a wider anti-western Islamist agenda. The measures put in place in the Business District have heightened awareness of the threat across the city as illustrated by the ordered evacuation of the Radisson Hotel on 26th April during a EU sponsored Libyan short film awards ceremony there.
On the same day as the French Embassy bombing a gun battle erupted on Shara Elektronat in Dahra in central Tripoli between a large number of gunmen resulting in the area being cordoned off by units of the Supreme Security Committee.
The challenge to the Government in relation to the threat posed by groups of armed men and militias continues. The issue is both about their continued hold on security aspects of the country as self-appointed guardians and agenda specific as in their support for the passing of the Political Isolation bill. The situation, as shown by this week’s events, cannot be allowed to continue without damage to the country’s reputation and the international community’s confidence in it. Sunday’s surrounding of the Foreign Ministry followed by that of the Ministry of Interior by armed men and vehicles was well-organised and orchestrated. Roads were sealed and patrolled by armed militiamen who did not enter the ministries but their message on the Political Isolation bill was clear.
Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya)
The major incident of the week was the bombing on Saturday 27th April of the Barka police station in Benghazi. It occurred early in the morning without causing casualties but did significant damage to the station itself. This is the second time this year that this police station has been attacked.
This attack followed a number of killings that started on Tuesday 23rd April with the killing of Ashraf Obeidi, an Airforce warrant officer, in Benghazi. It is believed that he was a former Gaddafi loyalist. Then on Friday 26th April a man was killed when armed men attacked the headquarters of Uqba ibn Nafi, a pro-government militia, in Derna. The attackers are believed to have been from Ansar al-Sharia, a salafist grouping also believed for the attack in September 2012 against the US Consulate in Banghazi. Derna is a stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia.