x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Britain, Germany and the Netherlands warn citizens to leave Benghazi

Libya yesterday said a British warning to its nationals to evacuate Benghazi was unjustified and overblown, even as Germany and the Netherlands also urged their citizens to leave.

LONDON // Libya yesterday said a British warning to its nationals to evacuate Benghazi was unjustified and overblown, even as Germany and the Netherlands also urged their citizens to leave.

Describing the tone of a London statement that warned of a "high threat" of terrorism as "astonishing", Abdullah Massoud, Libya's deputy interior minister, said that there were "question marks" over the warning.

"Nothing justifies this reaction," Mr Massoud said.

The advisory, which was issued by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) yesterday, said there was a "specific and imminent" threat to westerners in Benghazi, and urged all Britons to leave the city.

Germany later urged any of its nationals still in Benghazi to leave "immediately", while the Dutch foreign ministry spokesman, Thijs van Son, said "staying in this area is not to be advised".

The FCO declined to offer specific details about its warning about the city, where the Libyan rebellion against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi was headquartered and where a US ambassador was killed during an attack on the US consulate last year.

Benghazi has been under a British travel advisory since that attack and the FCO said not many Britons were likely to still be there.

But for those who were, the UK government warned of a "high threat from terrorism", and said attacks could be indiscriminate.

It also cautioned about the danger of kidnapping.

The warning cited France's military intervention in Mali as a possible cause for "retaliatory attacks" and urged Britons to stay away from large crowds or demonstrations.

It comes less than a week after a hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria in which nearly 800 people, mostly Algerians, were taken hostage and more than 60 were killed.

The man who claimed responsibility for that attack, Mokhtar Belmokhtar - a former cigarette smuggler and Al Qaeda commander who split from the movement and created his own militant group - said it was an act of retaliation against France, which is fighting on behalf of Mali's military-installed government against Islamist insurgents in the north of the country.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse