TRIPOLI, Libya — A car bomb tore through a Libyan Foreign Ministry building in the eastern city of Benghazi on Wednesday, a powerful reminder of lawlessness in the North African nation on the anniversary of a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate there as well as the 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
The bombing came exactly one year after al-Qaida-linked militants stormed the U.S. mission in Benghazi and a nearby U.S. building, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Prime Minister Ali Zidan issued a stern warning to militias blamed for much of the violence that has plagued Libya since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi two years ago, proclaiming that “we will not bow to anyone.”
But the challenges are mounting. The prime minister said that armed men had just stormed a post office in the capital, Tripoli, taking employees hostage. A witness at the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, told The Associated Press that the attackers were seeking to cut off mail to the southern city of Sabha in retaliation for a rival tribe from Sabha cutting off the water supply to Tripoli for a week, forcing hospitals and homes to rely on wells and large tanks.
Other groups have shut down oil fields to protest corruption or demand regional autonomy, causing the country to lose out on millions of dollars a day in potential revenue.
The Benghazi blast caused no deaths or serious injuries, but destroyed the Foreign Ministry branch building in an attack rich in symbolism. The building once housed the U.S. Consulate under the rule of King Idris, who was overthrown in 1969 in a bloodless coup led by Gadhafi.
The bombing took place about 6 a.m., well before anybody was due to arrive at the Foreign Ministry for work and at a time when the nearby streets were nearly empty.
The explosion blew out a side wall of the building, leaving desks, filing cabinets and computers strewn across the concrete rubble. It also damaged the Benghazi branch of the Libyan Central Bank.
Pictures circulated on Facebook showed men carrying dead doves, with one person commenting that “the dog who did this will be punished for the guilt of killing doves.” Another photo shows black smoke smoldering out of the charred Foreign Ministry building, along with wrecked cars and burned palm trees. A green tarp was later placed over part of the building.
The blast also rocked Benghazi’s main boulevard, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, which runs through the city from north to south. Several pedestrians were slightly wounded.
Mohammed el-Ubaidi, head of the Foreign Ministry branch in Benghazi, told Libyan television that the car carried 132 pounds of explosives and was blown up by remote control.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came a day after bomb disposal experts defused an explosive device found next to the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Tripoli.
Car bombings and drive-by shootings routinely kill security officials in Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising.
Deputy Interior Minister Sadik Abdel-Karim described the security situation as “deteriorating.”
Tawfiq Breik, a lawmaker with the liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance, said that the attacks will continue as long as Libya lacks a strong national army and police.