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Libyans overrun compound abandoned by U.S. embassy in Tripoli

By David D. Kirkpatrick

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Aug. 31 2014 9:31 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken during a tour offered to onlookers and journalists by the Dawn of Libya militia on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, damage is seen in the front yard of a building at the U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli, Libya, after weeks of violence between rival militias over control of the capital. The Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya's capital now guards the U.S. Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers and journalists toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.

Associated Press

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CAIRO — Libyans have overrun a residential compound abandoned by the U.S. Embassy when it pulled out of Tripoli in July, according to a video circulated online Sunday. Dozens of trespassers could be seen gathered around a swimming pool inside the compound, and a few dived in from the second-floor balcony, all fully clothed.

The nonviolent invasion stood in contrast to the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi two years ago. On Sept. 11, 2012, scores of attackers burst into the compound, set fire to its buildings and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Three other Americans also died that night.

Like most foreign governments, the United States withdrew its employees from Tripoli weeks ago because of the escalating clashes between rival militias from the western mountain town of Zintan and the coastal city of Misrata. The Zintanis accused the Misratans of colluding with Islamists, and the Misratans accused the Zintanis of conspiring in a counterrevolution. Both sides deny the claims.

It was unclear if the trespassers at the compound belonged to either faction. At least one young man by the pool was carrying a rifle. But another held what appeared to be a bottle of alcohol. Several could be seen recording the mayhem on mobile devices.

One American who was part of the evacuation said Zintani militiamen had moved into the residential compound as the United States pulled out. But almost all of the Zintani fighters fled the city during the past week after they lost control of the airport, leaving the Misratans in control of the capital and putting a stop to the fighting. There was no sound of shelling in the background of the poolside video, so it appeared to have been recorded after the Zintanis fled and the guns went quiet.

The amateur videographer wrongly identified the scene.

“This used to be the American Embassy. God is great!” he said.

But people who worked there said the facility in the video was only a residential compound.

A senior State Department official said Sunday, “At this point, we believe the embassy compound itself remains secure, but we continue to monitor the situation on the ground, which remains very fluid.”

Americans who departed the embassy said it had been left under the protection of Libyan guards. But the next day a visitor saw no sign of any guards, at least from outside the walls of the compound.

No evidence has emerged that the embassy itself has been overrun.

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