Get out of Benghazi, Westerners told
Libyan military guards check one of the US mission's burnt-out buildings in September. Photo: AP
THE federal government is urging Australians to immediately leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in response to an imminent threat against Westerners.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued the alert this morning following similar warnings from the Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, variously describing the threat as specific and imminent.
‘‘All Australians in Benghazi should leave immediately,’’ DFAT said on its website.‘‘We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi.’’
The department reminded Australians that its travel advisory for Libya was still at its highest ‘‘do not travel’’ level ‘‘due to the high threat of terrorist attack, the ongoing threat of kidnapping and the unpredictable security situation throughout the country’’.
‘‘Australians who choose to remain in Libya should ensure that they have appropriate personal security measures in place,’’ DFAT said.
Britain, Germany and the Netherlands' warnings come a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to Congress about the September attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya.
They also come as French troops battle al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, and follow the deaths of dozens of foreigners taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Algeria - though it remains unclear if those two events are linked to the European nations’ concerns about Libya.
The foreign ministries of the three countries issued statements variously describing the threat as specific and imminent but none gave details.
Germany and Britain urged their nationals still in Benghazi to leave ‘‘immediately’’ while Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Thijs van Son said ‘‘staying in this area is not to be advised’’.
Benghazi, a city of one million people, is a business hub where many major firms employ Westerners. It was also where the Libyan uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi began in 2011.
Gaddafi was eventually toppled and killed after NATO backed the rebel movement, and the Arab country has since struggled with security.
Islamist extremists are often blamed for targeting security officials who worked under Gaddafi, as a kind of revenge for torturing or imprisoning them in the past.
Many city residents also blame Gaddafi loyalists who they say are trying to undermine Libya’s new leaders by sowing violence.
Ibrahim Sahd, a Benghazi-based politician, said the new government is putting together a plan to beef up security in the city and this ‘‘might have worried the Westerners of a backlash’’.