The conflict in Mali has heightened security concerns in Libya. Western and Libyan officials are worried that Islamist militants fleeing the French military offensive will cross Algeria’s porous borders and seek safe havens in Libya.
The U.S. is tracking the jihadists using surveillance drones. Flights have been stepped up over the eastern and southern parts of Libya.
In Benghazi, residents worry that drone strikes are imminent.
“Drones bring together Libyans of different political stripes who don’t agree on other issues,” Mr. Lawrence said. “There is a great deal of concern about the drones.”
Drone flights also have been reported over the eastern cities of Derna and Bayda.
“People were puzzled by the timing of the European warnings, but they are now connecting the dots,” said a Libyan source who spoke on background. “They believe that the Europeans are leaving out of fear of retaliation for a drone strike.”
The drones can provide a clearer picture on the nature of the support for militants in Algeria and Mali from Libya, which is awash with weapons left over from the revolution.
“It seems [the drones] have been pretty successful in localizing many of the jihadist camps,” Mr. Mezran said.
The CIA, which uses drones to kill militants in Pakistan, declined to comment.
No cause for concern?
Libyan officials have been taken aback by the Western warnings to their citizens.
“We are surprised by the decision of the Europeans,” said Usamah Al-Sharif, a spokesman for the Benghazi local council. “We were partners in the time of war against Gadhafi, and now we are looking to the world to build a real partnership.”
Ibrahim Sahad, who represents Benghazi in Libya’s General National Congress, conceded that there are “security issues” in the city.
“But I do not see any reason to justify the warnings of the Western countries,” he said. “Maybe they know something that we don’t know, but I am here, and I see no reason for concern.”
The militias, many of them remnants of the revolutionary brigades that fought Gadhafi’s forces, have filled a security vacuum and often act as if they are above the law, human rights monitors say.