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Car bomb explodes outside French embassy in Tripoli; 2 guards, girl injured

From Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
April 23, 2013 -- Updated 2001 GMT (0401 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Libyan deputy prime minister: The French ambassador said he will not leave Tripoli
  • Two French security guards and a 13-year-old girl are injured
  • The car bomb destroys the front wall of the embassy and shatters windows nearby
  • The attack comes 7 months after four Americans were killed at a consulate in Benghazi

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded just outside the French Embassy in Tripoli early Tuesday morning, injuring two French security guards and a Libyan girl, officials said.

The blast was so powerful it blew the front wall off the embassy. Homes can cars adjacent to the embassy sustained heavy damage, and the windows of nearby buildings in this upscale, largely residential neighborhood were also blown out.

During a visit to the area, Deputy Prime Minister Awad Barasi said a 13-year-old girl in a nearby house was injured in the attack and will be taken to Tunisia for treatment.

Barasi, who condemned the attack, said he had spoken with the French ambassador to Libya, who assured him he will not leave Tripoli.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack.

"In conjunction with the Libyan authorities, our government departments will make every effort to ensure that all light be shed on the circumstances of this heinous act and its perpetrators quickly identified," the foreign ministry said.

Barasi told CNN it was too early to "jump into conclusions" about who might have carried out the attack. A criminal investigation is under way to try to determine who was behind the attack and why.

At least four French investigators were at the scene with what appeared to be forensic equipment gathering evidence. They seemed to be leading the investigation and working with Libyan officials from the Criminal Investigations Division.

Libya's Interior Minister Ashour Shuail, who visited the site along with the country's justice minister, said one of the two French security guards had undergone a surgery in Tripoli and was now in stable condition.

He would not say who the government believes is behind the attack and said the investigation would reveal that. The minister said security will be increased around diplomatic missions in the capital.

Responding to questions about lax security, Shuail said no country is immune to this sort of security breach, not even the United States, referencing last week's Boston Marathon bombings.

Residents in the area complained about lax security at the French Embassy.

While there has been no claim of responsibility, Libyans at the scene blamed extremist groups.

"We have to admit they exist here in Libya," said Mustafa, who was in a nearby house. "They are small groups, no one likes them or supports them."

Western intelligence officials have said militants linked to al Qaeda had training camps in Libya.

After the French military intervention in Mali in January, there were fears militants could strike French interests in the region, including Libya, which has been struggling to impose security across the country since the 2011 revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.

At a news conference, Shuail said he could not link the attack to Mali.

He said Libya has to first deal with the widespread weapons in the country.

Rami El Obeidi, former intelligence chief during the Libyan revolution, blamed the attack on al Qaeda-linked groups.

"Without a doubt, extremist Jihadi movements aligned to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (are responsible). Same alliance that's responsible for the attacks on the British, American, and Italian missions in Benghazi, their proven involvement in the Algeria attack, and the logistical support that was given to AQIM elements in Mali," El Obeidi said.

The French Embassy bombing follows a series of attacks last year that targeted foreign diplomatic missions and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The attacks are believed to be the work of Islamist extremist groups with ties to al Qaeda.

Last September, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a militant attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

According to El Obeidi, Tuesday's early morning blast was a message to the French government about the capabilities of these groups, rather than a blast that aimed to kill.

Residents and embassy staff said the bomb detonated an hour before the area is busy with dozens of Libyans who line up daily to apply for visas.

"This was a political message because the attack was not designed to kill anyone, especially not Libyans, as this would have caused fractures within the extremist movements currently operating inside Libya" El Obeidi added.

CNN's Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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