Hajj Mohammed Mokhtar sits on the curb staring in shock at the smoke rising from a palm tree in his garden after a powerful car bomb on Tuesday targeted the French embassy next door.
“I survived the war and NATO bombardments (during the 2011 conflict) but I never felt such a powerful explosion,” said Mokhtar, whose house was largely destroyed by the blast.
French embassy staff and diplomats had still not arrived at work when an explosives-packed car blew up out outside the mission at 7:10 am (0510 GMT), wounding two French guards, and some neighbours, including a girl.
It also caused extensive damage in Gargaresh, the posh neighbourhood of villas and narrow streets where the mission is located.
The blast blew away windows and doors and demolished the stone wall that surrounded the two-storey villa in which the embassy is housed, which had been recently restored to erase damage caused during the 2011 uprising against the Kadhafi regime.
It created a two-metre-wide (six-foot) crater outside the gates of the embassy and ruptured underground water pipes, causing neighbourhood streets to flood and turning the neighbourhood into what looked like a war zone.
At least two homes, including Mokhtar’s, were badly damaged, two cars parked nearby were destroyed, and the windows of a shop 200 metres (yards) away were shattered from the impact.
“It was a close call for me,” said Jamal Omar, who lives across the street from the embassy and was slightly injured in the face.
“I was sweeping outside my house, and there wasn’t any car in front of the embassy. The explosion happened less than five minutes after I went back inside,” he said.
Omar speculated that one or more individuals had parked the car outside the embassy’s gates and quickly activated the bomb before fleeing.
Embassy staff who arrived on the premises after the attack were visibly shaken as they surveyed the damage.
“There is nothing left of my office,” said a French employee.
Outside the desolate embassy, residents vented their anger, furiously shouting that their neighbourhood should not have hosted an embassy.
“This is not a neighbourhood to host embassies. It is densely populated, the street is narrow and we don’t even know where to park our cars,” one man said.
Around 15 security officials who descended on Gargaresh after the explosion evacuated the area around the embassy and set up a cordon to keep neighbours at bay.
Lana news agency said a little girl was injured and hospitalised but gave no details on the nature of her injuries.
A French source said one gendarme was seriously wounded in the attack while another was only lightly hurt.
French condemned the “odious” attack and dispatched Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Tripoli where his counterpart Mohammed Abdel Aziz branded the act a “terrorist” attack.
Libya has grappled with violence since the 2011 ouster of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi who was toppled in a popular uprising backed by NATO bombardments led by France.