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European countries urge citizens to leave Benghazi

January 24, 2013|By Emily Alpert | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

British, Dutch and German officials urged their citizens to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday, warning of an impending but undescribed threat.

“We are now aware of a specific and imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi, and urge any British nationals who remain there against our advice to leave immediately,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday.

Britain had already warned its citizens against traveling to much of Libya since September, the same month the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were slain in Benghazi. Its latest travel advisory warns of "a high threat from terrorism," as well as "retaliatory attacks" against Westerners after the recent French military intervention in Mali. It was not immediately clear Thursday whether the warnings were tied to the ongoing battles in the West African nation.

[Updated, 11:55 a.m. Jan. 24: In the wake of the European warnings, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli said it had "no specific information pointing to specific, imminent threats against U.S. citizens," but added that "the potential for violence and kidnappings targeting Westerners in Benghazi is significant."

"The United States continues to advise against all travel to Benghazi," it said in a Thursday statement.]

After the British announcement, Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Abdullah Massoud told Agence France-Presse he was astonished by the move.

"We acknowledge that there are security problems in Benghazi and that there have been for several months, but there is no new intelligence that could justify this reaction from London," he said.

The British warning was quickly echoed by the Netherlands and Germany. The Dutch Foreign Ministry had already advised people not to travel to or through Benghazi and its surrounding territory as of Monday, but stepped up its warnings Thursday because "we see an increasing chance of increasing threats," spokesman Thijs van Son told the Los Angeles Times.

There are 10 Dutch citizens in the Benghazi area who have been reached and informed of the new advice, he said. Van Son declined to provide additional details about the nature of the threat. Germany, in turn, warned of an "immediate" threat but likewise did not provide details.

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