TRIPOLI, Libya — A car bomb exploded Tuesday outside the French Embassy in Tripoli, wounding three people and partially setting the building on fire in the worst attack on a diplomatic mission in the North African nation since the U.S. ambassador was killed last year.
The attack in the heart of the capital put new pressure on Libya's new leaders to rein in the lawlessness that has gripped the country since 2011, when rebels ousted Moammar Gadhafi in a civil war and then refused to lay down their arms.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on the militias and the extremists in their ranks that are fighting the central government in Tripoli for control.
Some Libyans blamed Islamic militants seeking to avenge France's military intervention in Mali to dislodge al-Qaida-linked forces from the northern part of the West African country.
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear. On its official website, the Libyan government denounced such attacks, which it said are "directly targeting Libya's security and stability."
French President Francois Hollande called the bombing an assault on all countries engaged in the fight against terrorism. The Obama administration also condemned the violence.
The bombing was the first in Tripoli, which has been relatively quiet. However, the eastern city of Benghazi saw a rise in violence last year, including the Sept. 11 attack by militants on the U.S. diplomatic mission that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The morning blast in Tripoli wounded two French guards and ignited a fire at the embassy entrance that engulfed some of the offices inside, the officials said. A Libyan girl who was having breakfast in a nearby house was also hurt, Deputy Prime Minister Awad al-Barassi said on his official Facebook page.
French institutions in Tripoli, including schools and cultural centers, were ordered to suspend their activities immediately.