TRIPOLI (AFP) – France promised that those behind a devastating car bomb attack on its embassy in Libya — which wounded a girl living nearby and two guards — would pay.
“The terrorists who wanted to attack France and Libya and undermine the friendship between them will pay” for the attack, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned.
He was speaking shortly after having visited the wrecked embassy in Tripoli in the hours following the bombing.
Libya’s authorities had pledged to track down and punish the “terrorists” behind this “cowardly” attack, he added. Standing at his side was Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz, who earlier had also condemned the “terrorist act”.
French President Francois Hollande also called on Tripoli to act quickly to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Tripoli’s security chief Mahmud al-Sherif said the blast occurred when a car parked outside the mission’s front door exploded at 7:10 am (0510 GMT). It had not been a suicide bombing, he added.
A French source said one guard was seriously wounded and another lightly hurt in the attack on the mission, housed in a two-storey villa in the upmarket Gargaresh area. Libya’s state news agency Lana added that a girl living in the neighbourhood had also been hurt.
The blast knocked down the wall surrounding the property and caused extensive damage to the embassy.
It created a deep crater in the street, destroyed two cars parked nearby, damaged two neighbouring villas and blew out the windows of a shop 200 metres (yards) away.
Interior Minister Ashur Shwayel said one of the guards, injured in his back and head, was stable after undergoing surgery. He was due to be flown back home to France, said Fabius.
Shwayel also said there were questions about where the embassy’s Libyan guards had been when the bomb exploded, as they should have been outside on the street.
Security had been stepped up around French interests in Libya, as well as at embassies of other countries, he added.
Jamal Omar, who lives across the street and whose face was slightly injured, said the car must have been parked only minutes before the explosion.
“I was sweeping outside my house, and there wasn’t any car in front of the embassy. The explosion happened less than five minutes after I went back inside.”
Libya’s foreign minister declined to speculate on who carried out the attack or what the motive was.
But Abdel Aziz told AFP: “We strongly condemn this act, which we regard as a terrorist act against a brother nation that supported Libya during the revolution.”
In Paris, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutors have already opened an investigation into the Tripoli attack. France is sending 10 gendarmes to Libya to boost security and look at relocating the embassy.
The UN Security Council, UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the European Union all strongly condemned the attack, calling on the Libyan authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
But the bombing comes with Libya still plagued by insecurity following the 2011 ouster of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
French forces meanwhile, are locked in a battle against Islamist extremists in Mali, another North African country.
Fabius said he had instructed French missions in the region to bolster security and late on Tuesday, France’s foreign ministry said that shots had been fired near the French embassy in Yemen.
Yemen’s authorities had been informed and France was carefully monitoring the situation in the capital Sanaa, a ministry spokesman told AFP.
France, under then president Nicolas Sarkozy, led NATO air raids against Kadhafi’s forces under a UN resolution aimed at protecting civilians.
Since Kadhafi’s fall however, Libya has been plagued by persistent insecurity, especially around Benghazi where bombings and assassinations have forced many Westerners to leave.
Four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed when heavily armed men overran the Benghazi mission on September 11.
The violence is often blamed on radical Islamists persecuted under Kadhafi who now want to settle old scores. Security remains the prerogative of militias in a number of important areas.
Armed jihadist groups hurt by the French intervention in northern Mali had threatened retaliation by attacking French interests across the world.