Last updated: 25 January, 2013

Britain warns of specific threat in Benghazi

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said Friday that Western nations had exaggerated by urging their citizens to leave the city of Benghazi due to a specific and imminent threat to Westerners.

Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Australia have all urged their citizens to leave the city due to the threat, linked to France’s military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali.

“I think that there was exaggeration on behalf of some countries, who took some preventive measures and we can understand that,” Zeidan told a panel at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

“But the reality is that these people of foreign nationality live very peacefully in Libya and there are security measures to protect them,” he said.

Earlier, officials in Tripoli said the country had not been informed of the evacuation order or given information about the threat.

“There has been no formal notice to us from any other country of its intention to evacuate its citizens from the city of Benghazi,” an interior ministry source was quoted as saying by Lana news agency.

“The Libyan deputy interior minister for security, Omar al-Khadrawi, contacted the British embassy in Tripoli to seek clarification on the statement released by the British Foreign Office but no response has been received,” ministry spokesman Mejdi al-Arfi said, also quoted by Lana.

Deputy Interior Minister Abdullah Massud expressed “astonishment” at the warnings on Thursday, and said his government would demand an explanation.

“If Britain was afraid of threats to its citizens, it could have pulled them out quietly without causing all the commotion and excitement,” Massud was reported to have said on Friday.

“The British Foreign Office statement sparked growing concerns by various diplomatic missions and foreign companies in Benghazi and led them to seriously consider leaving the city,” Lana quoted him as saying.

Benghazi was the cradle of the uprising that ousted Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 and also the city where a US ambassador was killed in an attack last September.

The initial alert from London came after British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that last week’s deadly attack on a gas complex in Algeria was only one part of what would be a “long struggle against murderous terrorists” around the world.