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Travel warning issued for Benghazi

National Transitional Council Flag of LibyaThe Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued a new travel warning for Britons to leave Benghazi, Libya following a specific threat towards westerners. The agency has been advising against travel to a majority of the country since September 2012, but now this warning has been stepped up.

An FCO spokesman says they are aware of an imminent and specific threat against westerners in the city of Benghazi, and they encourage any nationals there against their advice to immediately leave. Their travel advice has been updated to reflect this, and the British Embassy positioned in Tripoli has been contacting the British nationals they have contact details for in order to alert them of the update.

The FCO’s warning update was issued yesterday, the day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emotionally spoke to Congress about the US mission attack on September 11 in Benghazi, during which the US ambassador and three others were killed. She cautioned about the challenge increased militancy poses following the Arab Spring, noting that revolutions shattered security enforcements in the region. Earlier this month, the Italian consulate in Benghazi was closed temporarily after its staff was pulled out of the country in response to a failed gun attack.

Despite the threat, Libyan deputy interior minister Abdullah Massoud says nothing justifies the new travel warning for Benghazi. He says there are questions about the claims, and he’s surprised about the UK government’s strong tone. However, the British aren’t the only ones advising against travel to Benghazi and urging its citizens to leave immediately. Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have issued similar warnings.

A German Foreign Ministry official said few of their nationals were in the city. Thijs van Son, a spokesman for the Dutch government, said four nationals were registered in Benghazi, and there could be two more there. An official for Canadian Foreign Affairs said an email was sent to nationals in Benghazi, giving them advice to leave. The Associated Press has cited officials in Europe also saying that schools, non-governmental organisation offices and businesses are the most likely targets.

The warning also follows the tragic hostage crisis in Algeria last week, when dozens of travellers were killed by Islamist gunmen who attacked In Amenas, which is a town that lies on the country’s eastern border with Libya. At least three Britons were among the 37 killed in the tragedy. A British resident went missing along with three others, and they are thought to be dead. Several more people are still missing and some bodies haven’t been identified yet.

It’s reported that gunmen entered the country from Libya and used weapons from late Muammar Gaddafi’s stash. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denies these claims, however. Since the recent attack, British Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to put terrorism issues at the top of the G8 summit’s agenda when it meets this June in Northern Ireland, which will be hosted by him.

Cameron has also warned that fighting terrorism will require a long-term commitment. He believes the world is in the middle of a long struggle against poisonous ideology and terrorists. Pressure was successfully put on al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so its franchises have been growing in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa for years. These areas have suffered much more crime, hostage situations and terrorism.

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