Two assailants were killed when protesters attacked Russia’s embassy in Tripoli, a Libyan minister said Thursday, while denying Moscow’s claims that it had evacuated the embassy on his request.
“Two Libyans were killed in the attack” late Wednesday, said Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz, adding that he had urged embassy staff not to spend the night in the compound for fear of a second attack.
Abdelaziz gave no further details on the deaths in the attack, which appeared to have been triggered by reports that a Russian woman killed a Libyan army.
Moscow said Thursday it had evacuated its embassy staff from Libya after Abdelaziz told the ambassador that Tripoli was unable to guarantee their safety and that they should be pulled out.
“This is not true. We cannot make such a recommendation,” said Abdelaziz, adding that he had “asked the Russian ambassador to leave the embassy and spend the night in a hotel or in a similar place.”
“After a lengthy discussion, the ambassador received orders (from Moscow) not to leave the embassy and to leave the country in the morning, so we facilitated their departure,” the minister said.
Moscow summoned a Libyan diplomat over the unrest, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone to Abdelaziz, demanding that Tripoli guarantee the protection of Russian nationals and embassy property.
Earlier on Thursday all embassy staff and their family members crossed safely into Tunis, Russia’s foreign ministry said, adding that they planned to fly back to Moscow on Friday.
A Tunisian security official said 47 men, women and children had crossed the border and were staying in a hotel on the nearby island of Djerba. They were to fly out on a charter plane early Friday, the official said.
Dozens of protesters attempted to storm the embassy Wednesday night, setting alight a vehicle and causing some damage to the mission’s entrance gate.
The incident came two days after conflicting reports emerged about the murder of a Libyan army officer in the Souk Juma district of Tripoli.
Some sources said a Russian woman killed the officer for his role in the 2011 revolt against the regime of late dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Others said the woman was the wife of the slain man and that the motive for the killing was a marital dispute.
Moscow said the embassy had been attacked by a “group of militants” after Russian Ekaterina Ustyuzhaninova killed a Libyan officer and stabbed his mother, adding that she had been arrested.
Libyan authorities have struggled to impose security in the wake of the 2011 toppling of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, which left a security vacuum with a patchwork of local militias operating across the country.
Wednesday’s assault came a little over a year after militants stormed the US mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, triggering an hours-long firefight and killing four Americans, including the US ambassador.
In August, a bomb exploded in front of the Egyptian consulate in Benghazi without wounding anyone.