London, January 25, 2013 – Days after the deadly hostage crisis in Algeria, Britain on Thursday announced a “specific, imminent threat to Westerners” in neighboring Libya and urged any British citizens in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to leave immediately.
Travel advice updated by the British Foreign Office also warned against “all but essential travel” to several other Libyan cities, citing a “high threat from terrorism” and a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interest in the region after the French military intervention in Mali, which preceded last week’s Islamist attack on a remote Algerian gas field near the Libyan border.
The Foreign Office did not describe the nature of the reported threat in Benghazi, where an attack on the United States diplomatic compound in September killed four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Since September, the British authorities have warned against all travel to Benghazi.
Earlier this week, a senior Algerian official said that several Egyptian members of the squad that attacked the Algerian gas complex were also among those who had attacked the American mission in Benghazi.
The Egyptians were among 29 kidnappers killed by Algerian forces during the four-day siege of the gas plant in which at least 37 foreign hostages and one Algerian died. Three militants were captured alive and one of them, under interrogation by Algerian security forces, recounted the Egyptians’ involvement in both attacks, the Algerian official said.
“We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi,” the Foreign Office advisory said. “We advise against all travel to Benghazi and urge any British nationals who are there against our advice to leave immediately.”
In other Libyan places, it said, “there is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers.” The advisory did not specifically link its warnings to the kidnappings in Algeria.
Foreign Office officials declined to elaborate on the warnings.
As the crisis in Algeria unfolded, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain repeatedly warned that Al Qaeda-linked extremists and other Islamist militants in North Africa presented a growing threat to Western interests.
“Just as we have reduced the scale of the Al Qaeda threat in other parts of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so it has grown in other parts of the world,” he said. “We need to be equally concerned about that, and equally focused on it.”
During the Algerian hostage crisis, the kidnappers depicted their attack as linked to the French intervention in Mali, in turn provoked by a lightning advance south by Islamists who have turned Mali’s desert north into a separatist redoubt. New York Times