Tripoli, 24 January 2013:
European and North American embassies today warned their nationals in Benghazi to leave the city immediately because of a “specific threat to Westerners”.
The British Foreign Office declined to give any further details. However other security sources are saying there is firm evidence that an attack is imminent on a Libyan oilfield, in a repeat of the In Almenas assault in Algeria.
During that incident, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan asserted that the GNC “is serious in protecting our petroleum installations.” He added that if oil workers were abducted in Libya, the government “would deal with it.”
The country’s Petroleum Faculty Guard (PFG) reported that it was boosting security at oil facilities in the west and south of the country. In an 18 January posting on its Facebook page it announced: “The formation of a special operations room, including military air support and increasing guards, military personal and intensifying security patrols inside and out the sites around the clock, to block any attempt from any who wish to compromise public property.”
It added: “There is no record of any violations or attempts and work in all sites and faculties is normal”.
It is unclear how many Westerners are still located in the Benghazi area. There was a definite exodus after the murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues on 11 September. A further set of departures came after the 12 January attack on a vehicle in which Italy’s consul-general in Benghazi was travelling. The Italian consulate-general in the city has since been closed, temporarily.
Though embassies only started alerting their nationals today, the first corporate security warning of the expected attack was actually issued at 2000 hours yesterday (Wednesday).
It was not immediately clear how easily Westerners were managing to leave Benghazis.
There was, however, certainly chaos at Tripoli airport today, Thursday. The 1300 hrs flight to Benghazi was overbooked. However, bumped passengers hoping to catch the next flight at 1500 hours, found that that had been cancelled.
It appeared at one point that both the British International and European schools in Benghazi had been closed. One man, Abdelaziz Mettawa, who indicated he was a father of a child at the British School, told the Libya Herald that parents had been informed that the school would be closed all next week, but planned to reopen on 2 February. He said the headmaster had been called by the British ambassador late on Tuesday evening, asking for the school to be shut and for all British teachers to leave the city.
However, the Libya Herald has since contacted the headmaster of the British International School, David Bolan who said: “We are obviously concerned and have asked for increased security…we have decided to stay, but are assessing the situation daily… we hope that the authorities do something to put an end to this situation which has been going on for quite sometime.” Bolan added that this was the second time his government has asked the British teachers to leave. The first suggested evacuation was through the port of Benghazi in February 2011 at the start of the revolution. Bolan and his team stayed.