Gunmen shot dead an American teacher as he was jogging Thursday in Benghazi, the city in eastern Libya where the U.S. ambassador was slain last year.
Ronald Thomas Smith II, 33, taught chemistry at the International School Benghazi, where he had been working for less than two years.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came five days after American al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn called on Libyans to attack U.S. interests to revenge U.S. special forces nabbing an al Qaeda terrorist in Tripoli in October.
Mr. Smith’s slaying shocked residents of Benghazi, where security has unraveled at an alarming pace and assassinations and bomb explosions are routine.
Hana El-Gallal, a professor of law at the University of Benghazi, recalled Mr. Smith as a “kind and generous” man.
“He was a giver,” Mrs. El-Gallal said in an interview via Skype.
Mr. Smith would play soccer with her two sons, both students at the International School.
“I told them about what happened to Ronnie. They screamed, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ They are devastated. … We are all devastated,” said Mrs. El-Gallal, who served as minister of education in the National Transitional Council that was formed after rebels ousted Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed Mr. Smith’s death.
“We are in contact with the family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance,” Ms. Harf said. “Out of the respect for the privacy of those affected, I don’t have a lot of further details at this time.”
Mr. Smith’s death “clearly strikes a chord here in Washington as it is a reminder of the September 2012 attack,” said Karim Mezran, a Middle East specialist at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “Jihadi elements and criminal networks have found safe haven in Libya in the face of a weak central government, and are to blame for a number of targeted assassinations and attacks.”
The State Department in June issued a travel warning advising U.S. citizens not to travel to Benghazi.
“There are pretty severe travel warnings in effect for Libya, particularly Benghazi,” said Ms. Harf.
On Sept. 11, 2012, heavily armed terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA annex in Benghazi. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed in the attacks.
Benghazi residents reported three other assassinations Thursday — an army colonel, a police officer and an intelligence official.
“Ronnie was one of the nicest teachers in the school,” Mrs. El-Gallal said of Mr. Smith. “It is a big loss. Every day we are burying men and now even families in Benghazi.”
“It is not the murderers who are to be blamed, but the people in power who are doing nothing to stop them,” she said. “Nobody feels safe in the city.”