French security contractor shot dead in Libya's Benghazi

13th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

A French private security contractor was shot dead and four others were arrested in a murky incident at a checkpoint in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, officials and sources said Thursday.

"During a police check in Benghazi last night, five French nationals were detained," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

"One of them was wounded by a bullet and died overnight in a hospital in Benghazi" while the other four remain in detention, he added, confirming a report by a doctor at the hospital.

The French statement did not say who fired the bullet that killed the contractor in Benghazi, which is far from the frontline in the Libyan conflict and which at the moment is a relatively safe city.

Rebel officials provided no details and would not confirm that they were holding the four men from France, which is the strongest backer of the rebels seeking to oust Moamer Kadhafi.

European diplomatic sources here said the men were former French soldiers prospecting for new contracts in Benghazi for a France-based security company which operates mostly in French-speaking Africa.

Few details have emerged about the incident late Wednesday, and there was no information on why the people were arrested or what led to the shooting. But a European source said a tense night-time checkpoint situation had degenerated.

Another European diplomatic source said it was not clear whether the men had been arrested or kidnapped.

The French foreign ministry spokesman said the French representative in Benghazi had asked to see those who were in custody and was in contact with local authorities to review their situation.

A security officer at Jalaa hospital told AFP that the Frenchman, who had been brought to the hospital by rebels, was already dead when he arrived and had been shot in the back with a bullet that exited through his stomach.

Mahmud Enbeg said rebels had found him lying face down in Hawari Street, near a cement factory.

"He had $400 and his French passport" on him when his body was brought to the hospital, said Enbeg, who added that the Frenchman was 49 years old but did not identify him by name. French officials did not name him either.

A medic said efforts to save the man's life at Jalaa hospital were fruitless.

"Around 2:00 am (2400 GMT Wednesday) a French citizen wounded by bullets in the abdomen was brought to us. We tried to revive him several times... but he died," Dr Shawg Najem said.

Rumours were circulating all day on Thursday in Benghazi that a group of French nationals had been kidnapped.

AFP journalists went to the area where the rumours said the Frenchman were abducted the night before.

A local Internet cafe owner said three Frenchmen came in most evenings to check email and some shopkeepers said they believed the men were based in a villa in the posh western outskirts of Benghazi.

"Three Frenchmen came in here most evenings to use the Internet," said the owner, adding that he had not been able to engage in conversation with them as they did not speak Arabic nor he French.

His description of the three men corresponded to those of three ex-French soldiers who have been seen around Benghazi over the past week and who told journalists they worked for a French security firm seeking new contracts.

The French private security company, which is based in the southwestern town of Carcassonne, refused to comment on the incident when contacted by AFP and declined to say whether it had contractors in Benghazi.

© 2011 AFP

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