14 September 2012
A Turkish Airlines flight to Benghazi had to return to Turkey after air traffic was suspended for security reasons to Libya's second city, where the American ambassador was killed when the U.S. consulate came under attack this week, an airport source said today.
"We received orders on Thursday evening to immediately suspend all flights for security reasons," the source told Agence France-Presse.
She said the immediate effect had been the grounding of a Tunisair flight which had been due to take off on Thursday evening.
The eastern city has been tense since Tuesday, when the U.S. consulate was attacked, looted and set on fire and four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed.
The airport source said no official reason had been given for the closure of Benghazi's Benina airport, but speculated: "The threat of the possible presence of surface-to-air missiles could be behind the decision." At the end of the conflict that toppled strongman Moammar Gadhafi, Western nations involved in a NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya reported the disappearance of thousands of surface-to-air missiles capable of being fired from portable launchers.
Libyan airliner Afriqiyah announced in a Twitter message meanwhile that all "flights to/from Benina airport have been cancelled due to [the] security situation." A military source would only say unspecified "threats" were behind the suspension of flights.
According to witnesses, unmanned drone aircraft overflew Benghazi during the night and early Friday.
It was initially believed that the four Americans were killed by a mob outside the consulate as they tried to flee an angry protest against a US-produced movie deemed offensive to Islam.
But it is now believed Stevens died from smoke inhalation after becoming trapped in the compound when suspected Islamic militants fired on the building with rocket-propelled grenades and set it ablaze.
U.S. officials identified two of the four Americans killed in Tuesday's attack as former members of the elite Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, while the other victim was named as Sean Smith, an information management officer.
U.S. officials are investigating the possibility that the assault was a plot by al-Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers, using the protest against the film as a cover to carry out a coordinated revenge attack on Tuesday's anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur told AFP on Thursday that a"big advance" had been made in the probe into the deadly attack.
In his first interview since his election as premier on Wednesday night, Abu Shagur said that arrests had already been made and that more were under way.
"We have made a big advance. We have some names and some photographs," he said.