BENGHAZI, Libya -- Relatively few Americans remained in this eastern Libyan city as street battles raged and Islamic militants made ever-bolder forays in recent weeks. But Ronnie Smith, a chemistry teacher at an English-language school, stayed on, planning, colleagues said, to return soon to the United States for the Christmas holidays.
Smith, 33, from Texas, was gunned down Thursday by an unknown assailant or assailants as he jogged in an affluent central neighborhood of Benghazi, not far from the U.S. Consulate where an attack last September killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Shaken colleagues at the International School, which has an American-style curriculum, said they were told by school administrators that Smith had been shot multiple times as he was taking a run -- part of his regular routine, they said -- in the Fuweyhet district. There was no immediate claim of responsibility in the attack, and it was not known whether Smith was targeted as an American, as a Westerner, or at random.
Smith had arrived in Benghazi late last year and had a wife and young son. Their whereabouts were not clear following the shooting, and American diplomats refused to provide any family details or even confirm Smith’s identity. A U.S. official in the region acknowledged the death of an American national in Benghazi, but referred all questions to Libyan authorities.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that teacher Ronald Thomas Smith II was shot and killed in Benghazi.
“We offer our condolences to the victim’s family, friends and loved ones,” Harf said. “We are in contact with the family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance.”
Harf said the U.S. has an ongoing advisory warning U.S. citizens against all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid and southern Libya. The U.S. also advises against any but essential travel to Tripoli, the capital, she said.
Libyan officials said three Libyan soldiers also died in or near the city Thursday. The escalating militia battles that have rocked the city and its environs since early last month are emblematic of the central government’s weak authority. Authorities in Tripoli have tried to halt the fighting, but those efforts have been largely ineffectual.
East of Benghazi, in Derna, jihadist groups have effectively taken over, and Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is weighing a military intervention, which residents have demanded.
In Benghazi, security forces are sometimes the target of the militias, with assassinations a favored tactic, but the rival armed groups -- many of them made up of former rebels who brought down and killed longtime Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi -- are also locked in competition among themselves for influence and territory.
Last September’s consulate deaths were in the headlines again last month, when the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” suspended correspondent Lara Logan for an erroneous report on the events that led to Stevens’ death. An internal report found that Logan and her team had relied heavily on information provided by a security contractor named Dylan Davies, whose account was later discredited.
Special correspondent Juma reported from Benghazi and Times staff writer King from Cairo.