15 Dead as Deadly Car Bombing Hits Libya's Volatile Benghaziإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
A powerful car bomb exploded Monday near a hospital in the Libyan city of Benghazi, killing and wounding dozens in what officials said was the first such attack on civilians since Moammar Gadhafi's ouster.
Officials gave contradicting death tolls, however, as information trickled in about the devastating bombing which destroyed a restaurant and damaged cars and buildings near Al-Jala hospital in the center of Benghazi.
Deputy Interior Minister Abdullah Massoud said 15 people were killed and another 30 wounded in the attack on the eastern city, cradle of the 2011 armed uprising in which Gadhafi was killed.
He stressed it was only a "preliminary toll".
But health ministry spokesman Salah Abdeldayem later told Agence France Presse in Tripoli that four people died and six were wounded.
A police official in Benghazi gave a higher toll.
Tarak al-Kharaz told Libya's Al-Ahrar television station that the car bombing killed 13 people and wounded 41 others.
Dozens of people, many of them youths, rushed to the scene of the attack, some even volunteering to gather body parts and place them in clear plastic bags, AFP journalists reported.
Witnesses said children were among the casualties, but it was not immediately clear if they were dead or wounded.
The bombing wrecked cars and left debris scattered on the ground.
The deputy interior minister said the blast "totally destroyed a restaurant" and damaged buildings near the hospital.
A security official said the blast ripped through the hospital's car park.
A witness told AFP he heard a "very loud explosion".
Justice Minister Salah al-Mirghani denounced a "terrorist act" and vowed the authorities would "do everything possible to arrest the criminals".
Mirghani also urged "unity" among Libyans as commentators noted the bombing was the first to target civilians in Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled Gadhafi's regime and to take place in broad daylight.
Benghazi, Libya's second city, has seen a wave of violence in recent weeks.
But previous attacks, bombings or assassinations, have rocked the city by night or in the early hours of the day when the streets are empty, and have hit non-civilian targets, namely security officials.
Four police stations have been bombed in Benghazi in recent days -- two on Friday and two on Sunday -- causing damage but no casualties.
Authorities blame radical Islamists for the violence, including a deadly attack in September against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"We still don't know if this bombing targeted civilians or one particular individual," a security official said.
The latest violence also comes days after the United States and Britain withdrew some staff from their embassies in Tripoli citing security concerns over a flare-up between militiamen and the authorities.
The British Council cultural agency also closed its Libyan office for a week for the same reason, and oil giant BP said it had pulled out some non-essential overseas staff out of the country.
Last week the United States issued a travel advisory warning against "all travel to Benghazi" and other areas in Libya.
The militiamen, mostly former rebels who helped topple Gadhafi, had surrounded the foreign and justice ministries to press for a vote in the national assembly barring former officials of his regime from holding government jobs.
They lifted the siege on Sunday, ending a two-week standoff, days after the vote was passed by the General National Congress and a pledge by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to reshuffle the cabinet soon.
The militiamen who helped topple Gadhafi were hailed as heroes after the uprising but since then they stand accused of many of the country's ills, notably the instability that still plagues parts of the North African nation.
Monday's car bombing comes three weeks after a similar attack targeted the French embassy in Tripoli.
Two French guards and a few locals were wounded and the bombing caused extensive damage to the embassy and private homes in a residential neighborhood.
It also prompted France to reduce the number of personnel at its embassy.
France and Britain led the creation of a NATO no-fly zone in Libya in 2011 when the rebellion against Gadhafi began.