Libyan officials: US drones behind airport closure

Sep 14, 2012, 10:45 PM

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) – U.S. drones hovered over the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday and militia forces fired toward the crafts, prompting authorities to close the airport for several hours for fear a commercial aircraft could be hit, Libyan officials said.

Abdel-Basit Haroun, the head of the militia in charge of city security, said the drones could easily be spotted from the ground. He says men angry over perceived foreign intervention fired in the air and authorities closed the airport.

“The drones are like bees,” he said, referring to the long hours the drones were seen, with their buzzing noise heard in different neighborhoods of Benghazi. Militias, known as brigades, fought regime forces during Libya’s eight-month civil war that led to Moammar Gadhafi’s fall last year. Since then, many have roles in keeping security, though they have not been integrated into government forces.

An airport official confirmed the firing on the drones was the reason for the airport shutdown.

U.S. officials said drones in Libya include Predators and Reapers, which are being used for surveillance and are largely unarmed. While drones have been there consistently, officials have increased their coverage and cycles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

The American consulate in Benghazi came under deadly attack Tuesday night when angry mob and heavily armed Islamists demonstrating against a film denigrating Prophet Muhammad stormed the compound, setting the building on fire. Four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

So far, the identity of the attackers is unknown, though Libyan leaders have vowed to work with the Americans in catching them. Authorities in Libya say they arrested four suspects linked to the attack. Haroun, however, said no one had been arrested and that the announcement is only for media consumption.

Along with drone surveillance, the U.S. has deployed an FBI investigation team, and a small surge of U.S. intelligence officers to try to track down al-Qaida sympathizers thought responsible for turning the demonstration into a violent militant attack.

___

Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Libyan officials: US drones behind airport closure