Bomb targets US mission in Libya

A bomb explodes outside a US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Libya rebel, with the country's flag. Picture: AFP

BENGHAZI - A bomb exploded outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi overnight, an attack that could be retaliation for the killing, in a U.S. drone strike, of al Qaeda's Libyan second-in-command.

An improvised explosive device went off on the roadside outside the gate of the mission, in an upmarket area of central Benghazi, but no one was injured, said an official at the U.S. embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Hours before the attack, Washington had confirmed that a U.S.-operated drone had killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born cleric and senior al Qaeda operative, in Pakistan.

U.S. diplomats said after the Benghazi blast they had asked the Libyan authorities to step up security at U.S. facilities in the country, where last year Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in an uprising supported by NATO air power.

A trade mission from the United States was scheduled to arrive in Libya for meetings starting on Thursday in Tripoli and Benghazi. It was not clear if these would now go ahead.

"The possibility that this act took place because of what happened to Abu Yahya is, in my personal opinion, a very strong one," said Noman Benotman, a Libyan former Islamist who is now an expert on militant groups.

He said there were several possible scenarios, but one was that the attack was carried out by militants connected to al Qaeda's north African arm.

"Al Qaeda loyalists maybe wanted to deliver a message to the U.S. say enough is enough," Benotman said.

Libya's government made no immediate comment on the attack.

The bombing will revive concerns about the lack of security in Libya, where the weak authorities are still struggling to restore stability after last year's revolt and where arms and explosives are easily available.

In the past two months, there have been armed attacks on the offices of the Red Cross in Benghazi and on a convoy carrying the head of the United Nations mission to Libya.

Tuesday's attack was the first time a U.S. facility had been targeted since Gaddafi was overthrown.

"We have asked the Libyan government to increase its security around U.S. facilities," the official at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli told Reuters.

Amin Salam, of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said some delegates of the U.S. trade mission had arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday. "They may still go to Benghazi," he said.