DFAT urges Australians to leave Benghazi

The Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel advice for Libya, urging all Australians to leave Benghazi immediately.

Following similar warnings from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands overnight, the Australian government said on Friday morning that it was aware of a ''specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi''.

''All Australians in Benghazi should leave immediately,'' according to the advice.

The advice notes that there is a risk of ''retaliatory attacks'' against Western targets in Libya following the French intervention in the conflict in Mali.

The travel advisory for Libya is still at the highest ''do not travel'' level.

''Due to the high threat of terrorist attack, the ongoing threat of kidnapping and the unpredictable security situation throughout the country,'' DFAT said.

''Australians who choose to remain in Libya should ensure that they have appropriate personal security measures in place.''

A spokesperson from DFAT said that the Australian Embassy in Rome had contacted the two Australians known to be in Benghazi ''and conveyed the latest advice to them directly''.

The spokesperson said that Australians had been advised not to travel to Libya since early 2011, due to the high threat of terrorist attack, the ongoing threat of kidnapping and the unpredictable security situation throughout the country.

Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have urged their citizens to immediately leave Benghazi in response to what has variously been described as an imminent, immediate and concrete threat against Westerners.

Most Western countries have advised citizens not to travel to Benghazi since September, when US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues were killed by gunmen during a September 11 attack on the city's American consulate.

Friday's warning comes a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to US Congress about the attack.

It also comes as French troops battle al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, and follows the deaths of dozens of foreigners taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Algeria. It remains unclear if those two events are linked to the new Benghazi concerns.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that the government was looking at what safety advice could ''usefully'' be provided to Australian nationals, working for overseas companies in Africa - on top of existing travel warnings.

The spokesman noted that the level of threat could change "quite quickly" in some African countries.

The Australian Consulate-General in Tripoli is closed until further notice. Australians in Libya who require consular assistance should contact DFAT's 24-hour Consular Operations Centre on +61 2 62613305 or the Australian Embassy in Rome on +39 06 85 2721.

With agencies

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The story DFAT urges Australians to leave Benghazi first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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