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American Teacher Ronnie Smith Slain in Benghazi Was “Very Much Loved”
A well-known American teacher was shot and killed in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday, days before the teacher was to return home for the holidays, the school’s principal said. The teacher Ronnie Smith, 33, was teaching chemistry at the International School Benghazi for about 18 months and was “very much loved” according to what Peter Hodge principal of the school told NBC News. “He was the most amazing person, more like a best friend or a family member,” said student Yomna Zentani, 18.
“After everything 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 decided so much of his time for all his students,” she added. “He chose to come here and help us and risk his life.” After being in Egypt for a spell, Smith began working at the school, she said.
“He was going back home to see his mom and his family, where he hadn’t been for some time. He was supposed to leave this week but he said he would stay around for our midterms. He was going to join them.” Lujain Beruwein, 16, said Smith helped her get settled in Benghazi when her Libyan parents moved back from Scotland.
“Because I’m from the U.K. and he’s from America we were always trying to outdo each other,” she said. “It’s really upsetting that he has died. The majority of Libyans want the country to develop but the others are just trying to ruin things for everyone. We’re not going to stand for this.”
A former principal of the school, Adel Mansour who is now head of its board of governors, described Smith as a “great guy”. He loved being in Benghazi and he loved Libya and the kindness of it’s people,” Mansour told NBC News. “He was looking forward to going back and being with his family for the Holidays but now unfortunately now that’s not going to happen.”
According to The Associated Press, Security Officer Ibrahim al- Sharaa said that the victim was jogging near the U.S Consulate at the time of the shooting. NBC News was unable to independently confirm that account.
A spokeswoman for The State Department confirmed the death of an American and also said the authorities were contacting his family, but declined further comment. Libya’s second largest city Benghazi has become a political flashpoint following the September 11, 2012 attack targeting the U.S. Consulate that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. An Islamist group known as Ansar al-Shariah has been blamed.
After the NATO-backed uprising two years ago that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, Libya is still in an intricate transition, with no new constitution, they have a temporary government and nascent security forces struggling to contain militias and former rebels.
Islamic militants planned for the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Libya in October and targeted attacks on American property following a U.S. special forces raid, seizing a suspected al Qaeda leader from his home in Tripoli.
Libya’s army clashed with militants in Benghazi last week, Islamist in the area run their own checkpoints in the port city where assassinations and bombings happen regularly. Fighting broke out between army special forces and members of Ansar al-Shariah. Nine people died during the fight.
Because of the deteriorating security situation, oil workers, civil servants and private sector staff went on a three-day strike in the port city, protesting. The mass walkout showed the growing anger against the militias who helped oust Gadhafi. Most groups regularly challenge the delicate new government and its security forces. Because of the series of attacks most countries have closed their consulates in Benghazi and some foreign airlines stopped flying there.
Secretary of State John Kerry last month urged Libyans to “break the cycle of violence through respectful dialogue and reconciliation.” He also said, “Too much blood has been spilled and too many lives sacrificed to go backwards.”
Image Credit: NBCAmerican Teacher Ronnie Smith Slain in Benghazi Was "Very Much Loved" by Jaan