TRIPOLI, Libya — A car bomb targeted the French Embassy in the Libyan capital Tuesday, wounding two French guards and a Libyan teenager and underscoring the central government’s inability to stop the oil-rich North African nation’s slide toward deepening lawlessness.
There have been several attacks on diplomatic missions in Benghazi, but Tuesday’s was the first in Tripoli since the civil war ended with Moammar Gaddafi’s death. On Sept. 11, four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador in Libya, J. Christopher Stevens — were killed when militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in the eastern city.
No group asserted responsibility for the attack on the French Embassy in Tripoli, but many blamed either Islamist extremists avenging France’s military intervention in Mali or militias seeking to send a message that they are winning the struggle for control and that cracking down on them only backfires.
French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as an assault not only on France but all countries engaged in the fight against terrorism. “France expects the Libyan authorities to shed the fullest light on this unacceptable act, so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice,” he said in Paris.
Two years after the country’s civil war, Libya is struggling to maintain security, build a unified army and rein in militias, which include rebels who fought to oust Gaddafi in 2011 and have refused to lay down their arms.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his defense and interior ministers have increasingly cracked down on some militias in the capital. Zeidan has also reached out to France and other countries for training and technical aid in building the country’s security forces from scratch.
“The number one party benefiting from these attacks is the militias and the extremists,” said lawmaker Tawfiq Breik of the liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance bloc. “The message to the outside world is that Libya is slipping into terrorism.”
In the latest attack, the explosives-laden car was detonated just outside the embassy building in Tripoli’s upscale Andalus neighborhood early in the morning, before embassy staff had arrived, two Libyan security officials said.
The blast injured two French guards and set a fire at the embassy entrance that engulfed some of the offices inside, the officials said. A Libyan girl eating breakfast in a nearby house was also injured, officials said.