TRIPOLI, Apr 23 – A car bomb hit the France embassy in Libya, wounding two French guards and causing extensive damage in the first attack on a foreign mission since militants stormed the US consulate in Benghazi in September.
The Libyan foreign minister called the attack in Tripoli a “terrorist” incident.
An AFP correspondent at the site said the wall surrounding the property was destroyed and the embassy building extensively damaged. Two cars parked near the embassy were also destroyed.
The explosion occurred around 7am (0500 GMT), residents said.
A French source confirmed an attack against the embassy and said one guard was seriously wounded and another lightly hurt.
The mission is located in a two-storey villa in the upmarket Gargaresh area.
“We heard a loud blast at 7am. It was a big mistake to site the French embassy in our neighbourhood,” said a local resident.
France condemned the “odious” attack.
“In liaison with the Libyan authorities, the services of the state will do everything to establish the circumstances of this odious act and rapidly identify the perpetrators,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
The impact of the explosion also severely damaged two villas near the embassy, while windows of a shop 200 metres (yards) away were blown out.
The street in front of the mission was flooded with water, apparently from a pipe ripped by the blast.
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz condemned the bombing as a “terrorist act,” but decline to speculate on who carried it out or what the motive was.
“We strongly condemn this act, which we regard as a terrorist act against a brother nation that supported Libya during the revolution” of 2011 that ousted the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Abdel Aziz told AFP at the scene of the blast.
“We regret this act and express our solidarity with the French government and people,” he added, announcing a joint commission had been formed to investigate the attack.
France, under then president Nicolas Sarkozy, led NATO air raids against Gaddafi’s forces under a UN resolution aimed at protecting civilians.
Since Gaddafi’s fall, Libya has been plagued by persistent insecurity, especially in the region of Benghazi, which has been hit by bombings and assassinations that has forced many Westerners to leave the eastern city.
In September, an attack on the US consulate killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The envoy died when the consulate was attacked by an armed mob protesting against a low-budget anti-Islam film produced in the United States, which mocked the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
The movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” had triggered widespread anger and violent protests in several Muslim countries across the world.
The Benghazi attack sparked a ferocious backlash from Republicans during the 2012 US presidential race, who alleged that President Barack Obama’s administration sought to cover up details of the incident.
The violence in Libya is often blamed on radical Islamists persecuted under Gaddafi and who now want to settle old scores, while security remains the prerogative of militias in a number of important areas.
Adding to the woes is a regional context marked by the conflict in Mali where the French army intervened at the request of the authorities in Bamako.
Armed jihadist groups hurt by the French intervention in northern Mali had threatened retaliation by attacking French interests.