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Italian consul in Benghazi shot at in car but unhurt

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - An Italian consul came under fire in his car in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Saturday but was unhurt, Italy said, four months after the U.S. ambassador was killed in an attack on the U.S. mission in the city.

Gun shots are seen on the windows of the Italian consul's car after it was shot by unknown assailants in Benghazi January 12, 2013. An Italian consul came under fire in his car in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Saturday but was unhurt, the Italian Foreign Ministry said. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

A spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on Guido De Sanctis, Italy’s Benghazi consul since 2011, and said he was unhurt.

A security source in Libya who declined to be named told Reuters: “They shot at his car, but the car was armored. He is fine, there are no injuries.”

There was no immediate indication who might have been behind the attack.

Security for Westerners in Libya’s second city was an acute concern even before the attack on the U.S. consulate, in which four U.S. staff were killed on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

American officials say militants with ties to al Qaeda affiliates were most likely involved in that attack. Benghazi, like much of Libya, is awash with weapons, and the city has also seen recent attacks on British, Red Cross and United Nations interests. Italy is the former colonial power in Libya.

A police source in Benghazi said the shots had been fired from a car passing De Sanctis’s residence. A Reuters reporter saw two bullet holes in the building, which was surrounded by police. The Italian spokesman said security around officials in Benghazi was already high before Saturday’s attack.

The city was where the anti-Gaddafi uprising broke out in February 2011. But Libya’s new elected rulers in Tripoli have struggled to impose their authority on a country where armed militias wield the real power, and Benghazi’s multitude of armed factions now make it a hot spot for violence.

In November, the city’s police chief was shot dead. And last June, a convoy carrying the British ambassador was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade that injured two of his bodyguards.

The offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the city were also attacked last year, as was a convoy carrying the United Nations’ former special envoy to Libya.

Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Ghaith Shennib in Libya; and Catherine Hornby in Rome; Editing by Kevin Liffey