Explosions have also targeted offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a U.N. vehicle, as well as British Embassy cars visiting the southern city of Sabha last week.
A Libyan group called the Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman has asserted responsibility for some of the attacks. It is not clear whether all the attacks are linked or whether elements from outside Libya are involved, though experts say those responsible are probably Libyans. Abdel Rahman, known as the blind sheik, is an Egyptian Muslim cleric who is serving a life sentence in the United States on conspiracy charges that grew out of an investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The violence comes just weeks before Libyans vote for a national assembly that will in turn choose an interim government and a slate of people to write the country’s constitution. The polling date was recently pushed back to July 7.
“Elections are coming up, so some people may see this as a last opportunity to cause trouble before a government with a stronger mandate takes on Libya’s challenges,” said a Western diplomat here. Embassies have reviewed security, but otherwise “we are carrying on with business as usual,” the diplomat added.
Libyan authorities are investigating the attacks, said Othman Bensasi, director of administration for the Transitional National Council, which has run Libya for the past year. He said there was no evidence that foreigners were involved.
“We think it is fundamentalist Islamic groups,” he said. “They don’t want stability. They don’t want democracy.”
Bensasi said the current lack of a cohesive governing body allows such groups to operate. “We don’t have an authority that takes clear decisions,” he said, adding that he hoped this would improve after elections.
Several Islamic groups in Libya have embraced the elections, putting forward parties and candidates. A much smaller fringe has condemned the polls as un-Islamic.
An official at the U.S. Embassy declined to speculate on who was behind the bombings. He said the United States has requested, and is receiving, increased security from the Libyan government since the Benghazi explosion, which hit an outside wall of the consulate compound.
Libyans in government as well as private citizens have expressed profound dismay at the attacks.
“Even more than we, they do not want their country to look like Iraq, and I think they’ve been shocked and worried over the last two weeks,” the Western diplomat said, adding that most Libyans seem to back the road map to a new government. “They are disappointed in the current government, but the vast majority have accepted that elections are the best way to improve things.”