What’s Behind the Bombing at the French Embassy in Tripoli?

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A car exploded outside the French embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday morning in what was likely a planned attack. No group has claimed responsibility for the explosion, which wounded two French security guards and damaged part of the embassy’s compound. In a statement, French President François Hollande demanded a swift investigation: “France expects the Libyan authorities to shed the fullest light on this unacceptable act, so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”

Certain things stood out as notable in Tuesday’s blast — No. 1 being that no one was killed. And it went off at 7 a.m., before Libyans were up, and hours before the customary line for visa seekers usually starts forming outside the embassy.

Scrutiny now falls on militant Islamist groups active in Libya who are furious about France’s war against their comrades in Mali and the Sahel. “None of the recent attacks in Libya were major,” said Rami El-Obeidi, former intelligence chief for the Libyan rebels, by phone from Tripoli. “The militants don’t want Libyan casualties because they fear a backlash. The only thing that comes to mind is that this is retaliation for Mali. It’s a very clear message to Hollande.”

During the recent French offensive in Mali, there was heightened security in Libya, but that has eased as France has begun planning its military withdrawal. “People were saying they felt safe in Tripoli,” El-Obeidi said.

Indeed, several embassies are still situated in the busy Hay Andalus neighborhood of the capital, even seven months after the devastating attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and other American personnel, and shuttered most Western consulates in Libya’s second city. The U.S. embassy is situated in a well-guarded compound in a Tripoli suburb, set back from the road.

As a measure of how shaky Tripoli’s security remains, Libya’s Minister of Interior on Monday recently said he believed his cellphone was being monitored by someone, unknown, outside the government.