Benghazi suicide car bombing

A member of the Libyan security forces stands next to a burnt-out vehicle Sunday after a suicide bombing outside Benghazi in eastern Libya. (Abdullah Doma / AFP/Getty Images / December 22, 2013)

BENGHAZI, Libya -- A suicide car bombing at a security checkpoint in eastern Libya on Sunday killed at least 13 people, the government said -- a gruesome attack that left body parts strewn across a roadway. Officials declared three days of mourning.

The powerful explosion took place in Bersis, about 30 miles from the increasingly restive city of Benghazi. An American schoolteacher was killed in the city earlier this month, and it was the scene of the September 2012 attack on the American consulate that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.

Several heavily armed groups operate in the city and its environs, and have been battling one another and the security forces. Assassinations and bombings are favored tactics; Benghazi's military chief was assassinated last week. However, until now, suicide attacks have not been a feature of the fighting.

A number of diplomatic missions in Benghazi have closed as a result of the recent bout of violence, which has wreaked havoc in the country's oil industry. The rival militias sprang up in the wake of the 2011 fighting that toppled and killed longtime leader Moammar Kadafi, with the country's oil-rich east a key prize.

Militias have seized control of ports and oilfields in and near Benghazi in an effort to win concessions from the weak central government of Prime Minister Ali Zidan. The government has made little headway in efforts to rein in the armed groups, whose influence has spread to the capital Tripoli as well.

The government postponed independence-day commemorations that had been scheduled for this Tuesday, because they would have fallen within the official mourning period for Sunday’s attack.

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Juma is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King contributed to this report from Cairo.