TRIPOLI, Libya — A year to the day after the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the radicals were back -- detonating a massive car bomb that destroyed the city's foreign ministry building.
Unlike a year ago, the attack was timed to avoid casualties, detonating before staff came into work, but it was hard to miss the symbolism -- local people say that the building housed a previous U.S. consulate, dating from the time of King Idris, half a century before. The bomb left the building, home to the government's eastern department of foreign affairs, a smoking ruin.
Across town the smoke-stained yellow walls of the Benghazi villa where Ambassador Stevens died mark the place when the bubble burst on Libya in the eyes of the world.
For twelve months prior to the attack on the U.S. mission, from the ending of the NATO air strikes through elections the following summer, western powers could count intervention here a success. A ruthless tyrant, Muammar al-Qaddafi, had been vanquished and democracy installed. Britain, France, and the United States, prime movers in the military intervention, could tick the success box because democracy had taken root.
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That changed in one night of violence here at this compound, now deserted and eerily quiet. Burned-out vehicles rust by the main gates, and piles of white sandbags, their sides split, spill their muddy contents. Inside the burned out villa where Stevens's body was found, little post-it stickers remain where they were affixed by the FBI team who visited last October.
For the outside world, the death of the first U.S. ambassador to be slain since 1979 brought a new narrative to Libya. It was the place where a top U.S. official could be killed, and nobody would be brought to justice.
The effects of the killing have been profound. Among citizens of Benghazi, the inability or unwillingness of security agencies to prosecute those responsible underlines the chaos of the state.
That chaos has gone marching on from that day. Government has grown steadily weaker, to the point where rebels in the east and west have blockaded almost all Libya's oil production. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened to use troops to shift the strikers, but many of those troops are manning the blockades. There is talk of Cyrenaica, of which Benghazi is the capital, breaking away from the rest of Libya, and taking the bulk of its oil production with it.