BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) - A bomb was thrown at a convoy carrying the head of the United Nations mission to Libya on Tuesday, a U.N. spokeswoman said, but no one was hurt in the explosion.
The attack in the eastern city of Benghazi is the first of its kind targeting a foreign mission since last year’s revolt overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and is likely to raise concerns about instability in the country.
“While on a visit to Benghazi the head of the U.N. support mission in Libya had what appeared to be an explosive device thrown at his convoy. No one has been hurt and the authorities are investigating,” said the U.N.’s Hua Jiang.
A security official who was traveling with the convoy, but declined to give his name, said the home-made device was thrown while the convoy’s five armored vehicles were pulling into the parking area of the Supreme Security Committee’s building, where they had a meeting scheduled.
The attacker missed the convoy and the device exploded about four meters away from the convoy, a Libyan intelligence source told Reuters, leaving a small hole in the road. It was unclear who had thrown the bomb.
The source said the device was what is known in Libya as a “gelateena” - an improvised bomb made using TNT and household materials which is small enough to be thrown. Rebels sometimes used them against Gaddafi’s forces during last year’s rebellion.
Security analysts have warned that in the vacuum left by Gaddafi’s fall, there is a risk that loyalists of the former leadership or Islamist militants could mount an insurgency along the lines of the one in Iraq after the United States invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein.
“A lot of the speculation is going to be whether this (attack on the U.N. convoy) was pro-Gaddafi loyalists or Islamist militants,” Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst with London-based security consultancy AKE, told Reuters.
However, he said an Iraq-style insurgency was “a long, long way off at the moment and very unlikely”.
“Clearly it was not a very high-tech attack and it is definitely not a sign that there is any insurgency emerging that is capable of causing major disruption.”
Any escalation in violence could have an impact on plans by international oil companies to re-start their operations in Libya, home to Africa’s biggest proven reserves of crude.
The companies have been sending out teams to inspect the oil fields they abandoned during the revolt last year, and are preparing to send expatriate staff back in.
If there is a heightened risk of attacks on Western targets, they might have to reconsider those plans.
The head of the U.N. mission, Ian Martin, is a British citizen who was appointed to the post in September last year by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He has also worked as a U.N. envoy in conflict zones including Gaza, East Timor, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. He was previously Secretary General of human rights organization Amnesty International.
Editing by Maria Golovnina