CAIRO - When British diplomats abandoned their offices in Benghazi over the summer after the British ambassador's motorcade was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, their security detail left its weapons and vehicles in the custody of the U.S. consulate in that eastern Libyan city.
Now that cache of weapons is missing amid signs that the Islamist militants suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate and a nearby annex remain active, despite Libyan government demands that they disband.
The June 11 attack on British Ambassador Sir Dominic Asquith as he drove through Benghazi is among a list of 230 security incidents, 48 in Benghazi alone, that U.S. officials compiled to show how dangerous Libya had become. Two of Asquith's security guards were wounded in the attack. In contrast to the Americans, who remained in Benghazi, the British determined that the city was too dangerous and closed their offices.
Before withdrawing, however, British officials reached an agreement with the U.S. consulate to leave their weapons and vehicles at the poorly guarded U.S. compound.
"We are working with the U.S. to establish what, if anything, has happened to this equipment," British news agencies quoted an unnamed Foreign Office spokesman as saying.
The issue of the missing weapons and vehicles came to light during testimony Wednesday at a congressional hearing in Washington, where Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who headed a 16-member U.S. military security force in Libya, revealed that the British would return periodically to Benghazi and reclaim the weapons, then give them back to the Americans when they left the city again.
Wood added that he had expected an attack to come sooner or later. "I almost expected the attack to come," he said. "We were the last flag flying. It was a matter of time. The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there."
On Friday, U.S. officials said they still were working to determine what precisely had taken place during the assault on the consulate building. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and State Department computer specialist Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation after the building was set on fire.
Two other Americans, former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Wood, died at an embassy annex a few blocks away when it came under attack from mortar and rifle fire. The annex was believed to house the local offices of the CIA.
(Frykberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.)