Militants in the Libyan city of Benghazi claimed another American life today when gunmen shot dead a chemistry teacher while he was out jogging in an upscale residential district not far from where U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens died last year.
Thirty-three year-old Ronnie Smith was one of just a handful of Americans who have braved the risks to continue living in Benghazi following the assault last year on the U.S. consulate and a CIA annex that left Stevens dead along with three other Americans. Smith was due to return home to Texas for Christmas to visit his wife and young son.
Within minutes of the reports of his death, students of his from the International School in Benghazi tweeted about their horror at the shooting of a teacher who was “very much loved” according to the school’s principal Peter Hodge.
The head of the board governors, Adel Mansour, told NBC News that Smith, who had been teaching at the school for 18 months, was a “great guy.” He added: “He loved being in Benghazi and he loved Libya and the kindness of its people. He was looking forward to going back and being with his family but unfortunately now that’s not going to happen. He was so sweet with everyone.”
According to Libyan officials, Smith, who previously taught in Egypt, was jogging in the Fuwayhat district near the former U.S. consulate when gunmen driving a black jeep drove up and shot him. A photograph uploaded to social media and purporting to be of the slain teacher showed a man face down in running gear. There was blood pooling at his side.
Libyan security official Ibrahim al-Sharaa says three other people were shot in Benghazi today, which has seen waves of assassinations during the past year. The others, killed in separate incidents, included an army cadet and a Special Forces soldier. Officials say they don’t know what the motive for Smith’s killing would have been and no group has so far claimed responsibility.
Last night, the head of the Presidential Guards of Benghazi, Anwar Al-Dous, survived an attempt on his life when a blast exploded underneath his car while he was driving. He lost a leg as a result of the bombing.
Benghazi, where the uprising against Col. Muammar Gaddafi started three years ago, has been rocked for months by militia violence and slayings. Last week, units from Libya’s fledgling army clashed with one of the most prominent Islamist militias in the city, Ansar al-Sharia, some of whose leaders and members were involved in the assault on the American diplomatic compound a year ago in September. The militia has tied with al Qaeda but is not a formal affiliate.
Most of the remaining foreigners left living in Benghazi evacuated last week following the clashes that left at least nine dead. Most consulates and NGO offices were closed months ago and few envoys visit the city now even on day trips. Libya’s beleaguered Prime Minister, who few expect to last in his position much beyond the New Year, has called for militias to disband this month. If they don’t, it isn’t clear how the floundering Libyan government can enforce the demand—the militias are much larger and better armed than the country’s security forces.
In the wake of Smith’s killing, students at the school poured out their feelings on Twitter using the hash-tag ThankYouSmith and thanking him for being “a great teacher” and an “amazing friend.” One tweeted thanking the Texan “for risking your life every single day to help reach our full potential in life. I am sorry you had to go this way.”
Another thanking him “for always making our boring exhausting day way better.”
Yomna Zentani, an 18-year-old student attending the Libyan-owned school, told reporters that was“more like a best friend or a family member,” adding: “After everything that happened in Libya, we were losing hope and he was the only one who was supporting us, motivating us, telling us that as long as we studied everything would be okay. He was the silver lining. He dedicated so much of his time for all his students.”