15 January 2013

Libya: Italian Consul Escapes Benghazi Attack

Tripoli — The Italian government on Tuesday (January 15th) temporarily closed its consulate in Benghazi and pulled its staff out of the country following a failed gun attack on the consul in eastern Libya, AFP reported.

"The Italian government has temporarily suspended activity at the consulate in Benghazi for security reasons. The staff will return to Italy in the next few hours," the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Italian Consul Guido De Sanctis' bullet-proof car came under fire on Saturday in the latest of a series of attacks targeting foreign missions and security officials. The consul escaped unharmed.

Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Sunday condemned the incident as "a vile act of terrorism" and "an attempt to destabilise the institutions of the new Libya".

De Sanctis confirmed that the attack wouldn't affect the deep relations of co-operation between Libya and Italy.

In the wake of this attack, Libya announced plans to create a new special security force for their protection.

The new diplomatic security unit will secure consulates and embassies, Libyan Interior Ministry spokesperson Majdi al-Ourfi said on Monday.

The forces will have special equipment and its members will receive special training in languages and the principles of international law.

Al-Ourfi noted that the unit would be headed by a brigadier general or a colonel from the police, and would include officers and non-commissioned officers. It would be manned by graduate revolutionaries who join the Supreme Security Committee after they are integrated in the police all over Libya.

De Sanctis expressed his relief over the swift measures that were taken by the security agencies to protect him and hunt down the perpetrators following the attack, LANA reported.

The latest attack on De Sanctis is part of a series of attacks on foreign diplomats. US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US officials died in the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Last June, a rocket-propelled grenade struck a convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya, wounding two bodyguards.

Protestors took to the streets of Benghazi on Monday to denounce the assassination attempt, gathering in front of the Italian consulate. They all called for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

"The assassination attempt is one against Benghazi itself," said second deputy head of the local council Said al-Saiti.

"The security situation in town is very delicate," stated local council policy committee head Mohammed Zouwawa. "The council holds meetings, conferences and dialogues with entities concerned with security work, and we're in contact with the interior and defence ministers in order to ensure a secure environment in Benghazi."

"Yet, assassinations, kidnappings and security chaos continue, but so do our reform efforts, attempts to avert strife and defuse tensions," he added. "We don't expect that things will change overnight, but we just exert efforts, the last of which were the recommendations of the first dialogue conference."

Zouwawa explained that tthese recommendations were sent to the General National Congress for approval.

These efforts are aimed showing security and stopping shootings and assassinations.

"The people of Benghazi must help in protecting their city," Selim al-Misrati, an employee at a Libyan bank, said. "Some people poked fun at what the prime minister said when he asked citizens to be like informants for the protection of their country. If citizens had actually been informants, all sabotage operations would have been stopped and their perpetrators would have been arrested."

Citizen Nora Mohammed stated: "Benghazi is dying at the hands of those who disavow it. I never imagined that Benghazi would be filled with so many conspiracies and hatred."

"This is because the security apparatus, police and army forces haven't been activated, and we don't know until when," added university student Abdel Raouf al-Farjani.

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