A car bomb targeted the French Embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli, wounding two French guards and a Libyan teenager in an attack that President Francois Hollande denounced as an assault not only on France but all countries engaged in the fight against terrorism.
Two years after the country's civil war, Libya is struggling to maintain security, build a unified army and reining in militias, which include rebels who fought to oust the country's long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
It was the first such assault on an embassy in the Libyan capital. On September 11, four Americans - including the US Ambassador in Libya Chris Stevens - were killed when militants attacked the US diplomatic mission on the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
Terrorists with al Qaida's North Africa branch, al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, are believed to have played a key role in the Benghazi attack. But no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the French Embassy in Tripoli.
Last week, AQIM, threatened to seek revenge against all countries taking part in the French-led war in Mali, warning that no one who "participated in this ferocious attack" will be safe. It called on "all Muslims to target France and its interests and subjects inside and outside France until it withdraws the last soldier from the land of the Muslims and lifts its support of rulers of the region." That threat came as part of a question and answer session on AQIM's new Twitter account.
French officials have expressed concerns about the possibility of greater instability in Libya, where they believe at least some rebel fighters from Mali fled following France's military onslaught to dislodge al Qaida-linked militants who controlled the vast north of the West African country for months.
Also, in the post-Gaddafi turmoil in Libya, several diplomats, relief agencies and churches have come under attack and scores of Libyan security officials have been assassinated. In most cases, the government fails to nail down culprits or make arrests, either because of fear of counterattacks or the lack of capabilities to carry out a proper investigation.
In the latest attack, the explosives-laden car was detonated just outside the embassy building in Tripoli's upscale al-Andalus neighbourhood early in the morning, before any of the embassy staff had arrived inside the diplomatic mission, two Libyan security officials said.
The strong explosion wounded two French guards and set off a fire at the embassy entrance that engulfed some of the offices inside, the officials said. A Libyan girl in her teens, who was in a nearby house, was also hurt from the blast.
Two cars parked outside the embassy caught fire and two other nearby buildings were also damaged, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media. Firefighters rushed to the scene of the attack as smoke billowed into the sky. Video from the scene showed charred walls on surrounding houses.