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French, British, Dutch urged to exit Benghazi

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

Three European countries urged their citizens to leave Libya's restive eastern city of Benghazi because of a threatening message against Europeans found outside a foreign-run company, a Libyan congressman said Thursday.

Britain, Germany and the Netherlands urged their citizens to leave Benghazi, calling the threat “imminent” but offering no specifics.

The warnings were issued one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on Capitol Hill and promised that her department would improve security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack at the U.S. consulate and a CIA annex in Benghazi. The assault killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The European nations' stance that Benghazi no longer is safe underscores how little Libya's newly elected government controls the security and how much militants move freely throughout eastern Libya.

The warning occurs one week after militants stormed a natural gas complex in Algeria, about 40 miles from the Libyan border. The warning also could threaten oil production in Libya, which holds the largest crude-oil reserves in Africa and is home to several foreign-run oil plants.

Abdel Rahman Sewehi, a member of Libya's General National Congress and chairman of the defense committee, said officials in Benghazi discovered the message on a wall earlier this week outside the company. The threat to kill Europeans is in response to intervention in Mali led by France.

Since 2011, Libyan officials have not allowed Westerners to travel by car over the Egyptian-Libyan border, letting only nationals from those two nations pass.

Despite that, the announcement by the three nations caught Libyan officials and residents by surprise, and set off conjecture that the U.S. military is preparing to orchestrate an attack in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attack.

In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested there is no immediate attack plans because the United States has not determined who were the 70 men who stormed the compound and set it ablaze.

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