The residence of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, at the US consulate compound in Benghazi after the attack
The residence of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens is pictured at the US consulate compound in Benghazi in September 2012 following an attack on the building. As a row over weak security raged in Washington, there was little sign Thursday of the once-strong US presence in Benghazi, a month on from the attack that killed four diplomatic staff. © Gianluigi Guercia - AFP/File
The residence of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, at the US consulate compound in Benghazi after the attack
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Ibrahim Majbari, AFP
Last updated: October 11, 2012

Calm follows storm in Libya's Benghazi

As a row over weak security raged in Washington, there was little sign Thursday of the once-strong US presence in Benghazi, a month on from the attack that killed four diplomatic staff.

Instead of armed guards, Somali workers assiduously pruned the flowers and shrubs flanking the dirt road which leads to the front gates of the cream-coloured villa.

Branches, boxes filled with debris and black garbage bags piled up outside.

The owner, businessman Jamal al-Bishari, has barred access and ordered his workers to keep journalists from entering the compound where US ambassador Chris Stevens and three diplomatic staff were killed in a September 11 armed attack.

"It is a horrible thing what happened and the saddest thing of all was the death of the ambassador -- a great man who was always smiling and had a positive vision for Libya," Bishari told AFP.

The US appointed a new charge d'affaires, Laurence Pope, to take over its Libyan embassy on Thursday. While he is already in the capital Tripoli, it is unclear when US diplomats will return to the Benghazi compound, if at all.

Bishari said that he has received no information yet from his American tenants on what will happen next with the property which he had originally leased out for two years.

Stevens was the first ambassador to be killed on duty since 1979 and the horrific attack on the Benghazi consulate when dozens of armed men stormed the building, bombarding it and torching it, has shocked the US diplomatic community to the core.

Top security officials told lawmakers at a hearing in Washington on Wednesday that the consulate was a sitting target with weak security as requests for extra staffing were denied despite a rising Al-Qaeda threat.

At the nearby Venezia restaurant, which overlooks the back of the property, waiters shudder at the memory of that terrible night and recall when American accents were part of customer chatter.

"They used to come eat here all the time," said Khaled al-Ahmar, who like many others in Benghazi remembers the US ambassador's trademark, unescorted jogs in the area.

"We were happy they were here -- it meant that not all cultural and diplomatic events would be concentrated in the capital," he told AFP, stressing it would be a "big loss for Benghazi if the mission doesn't open again."

One neighbour, Ali Farjani, said he thought that the presence of the US consulate in the area would lead to the revitalisation of his neighbourhood and greater security but such hopes were dashed by the deadly attack.

"After what happened that night, we fear something will happen again if they come back," said Farjani.

Several Benghazi officials said there had been no talks on the subject.

In Tripoli, the US mission entrusted to Pope has been scaled down to a bare minimum.

The incident has pushed the few remaining Americans and other Westerners, who are also nervous about the one-year anniversary of toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi's death on October 20, to keep a low profile.

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