NOVOSIBIRSK/MOSCOW, October 4 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian woman whose alleged murder of a Libyan Air Force officer prompted an armed mob to attack the Russian Embassy in Libya this week was a former professional powerlifter who studied in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, regional officials said.
Yekaterina Ustyuzhaninova, the woman Russia’s Foreign Ministry identified on Thursday as being at the center of events leading up to the attack on its consulate in Tripoli, studied at Novosibirsk’s state university and practiced professional powerlifting with the regional branch of the International Powerlifting Association (IPA), according to IPA and university spokesmen.
“[Ustyuzhaninova] is my ex-athlete,” Vitaly Dubrovin, the president of the Novosibirsk region’s IPA, told RIA Novosti. “She trained [with us] about three years [ago]. She did bench press and powerlifting. A good girl, sociable.”
A Novosibirsk State University representative said she studied foreign languages and history intermittently there between 2007 and 2011, but never graduated.
Libyan police accused Ustyuzhaninova of murdering a Libyan Air Force officer on October 1, prompting the victim's friends and relatives to attack the Russian Embassy Wednesday night in revenge, the authorities said. Russia evacuated its entire embassy staff and their families to neighboring Tunisia after the attack, claiming the Libyan authorities could not guarantee their safety.
Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz denied that it could not protect the Russians, telling BBC News that they were advised to move to a different location “as a precautionary measure.”
Fifty-one Russian Embassy employees and their families flew back to Moscow Friday, the Emergencies Ministry said, though a group of high-level diplomats are still temporarily in Tunisia to continue working with the Libyan authorities.
Both Russia’s and Libya’s Foreign Ministries say the murder of Libyan Air Force officer Mohammed Soussi was the motivation for the assault on the embassy.
Libyan police arrested Ustyuzhaninova for allegedly shooting Soussi to death in his home and stabbing his mother. A graphic video circulating on Facebook, reportedly of Soussi's murder scene, showed blood pooled around a body on the floor, with “Death to rats” written in blood in English on the wall beside it.
In response, a group of about 10 armed attackers, purportedly Soussi's friends and relatives, stormed the Russian Embassy compound in Tripoli Wednesday night, breaking into the complex and setting fire to an embassy car in a pitched battle with security guards.
Russia’s ambassador to Libya, Ivan Molotkov, told journalists the attackers were “armed to the teeth” and engaged in “indiscriminate firing,” riddling windows, doors and walls with bullets.
Two attackers were killed and two more were seriously injured during the ensuing firefight, the Libyan Foreign Ministry said, before the remainder of the mob drove off. Embassy staff took cover in protected areas of the consulate and none were injured.
There are conflicting reports about the woman’s relationship to the victim. One local media account said she killed him because he had supported the ousting of Libya’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Media earlier reported that Ustyuzhaninova was a fervent Gadhafi loyalist, though the connection between the deceased leader and Soussi’s murder are unclear and unconfirmed.
Libya has remained volatile in the two years after Gadhafi’s ousting, riven by clan and tribal rivalries, and with militant Islamist groups flourishing in the absence of a strong central government.
Syrian protesters stormed the same embassy in Tripoli in February last year in protest after Russia and China vetoed a UN draft resolution, which called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign as a result of increasing violence from the country’s ongoing civil war.
The US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed when an armed Islamist mob attacked the American consulate in Benghazi in September 2012.