— LONDON (AP) — Britain, Germany and the Netherlands urged their citizens Thursday to immediately leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in response to what was described as an imminent threat against Westerners.
The warnings come a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified to Congress about the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya. They also come as French troops battle al-Qaida linked militants in Mali, and follow the deaths of dozens of foreigners taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Algeria — though it remained unclear if those two events were linked to the European nations' concerns about Libya.
The foreign ministries of the three countries issued statements variously describing the threat as specific and imminent but none gave details. Germany and Britain urged their nationals still in Benghazi to leave "immediately" while Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Thijs van Son said that "staying in this area is not to be advised."
It was not immediately clear how many people could be affected; Britain's Foreign Office said likely "dozens" of its citizens were in the city, while van Son said there are four Dutch citizens registered as being in Benghazi and possibly two more. Several countries have for months advised against all travel to the city, especially after the U.S. mission was attacked, and local residents said that many foreigners had already left in recent weeks.
Benghazi, a city of 1 million people, is a business hub where many major firms employ Westerners. It also was where the Libyan uprising against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi began in 2011. Gadhafi was eventually toppled and killed after NATO backed the rebel movement, and the Arab country has since struggled with security. Al-Qaida-linked militants operate in the country alongside other Islamist groups.