Prominent female activist killed in Libya

CAIRO (AP) One of Libya's most prominent female activists was assassinated in the restive eastern city of Benghazi when gunmen stormed her house, state news agency reported Thursday.

Salma Bugaighis, a lawyer and rights activist, was at the forefront in the 2011 uprising against dictator Moammar Gadhafi and was also among the most vocal and outspoken activists against militiamen and Islamic extremists who have run rampant in the country since Gadhafi's fall.

The identity of the gunmen was not immediately known. Islamic radical militias, however, have been blamed for frequent assassinations of secular activists, judges, moderate clerics, policemen, soldiers in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city.

Bugaighis was shot in the head on Wednesday night, just hours after casting her ballot in Libya's parliament elections, the state news agency LANA reported. She was rushed to a hospital where she died of her wounds, it said.

The daily Al-Wasat newspaper said the guard of her house in Benghazi told police that five gunmen all but one of them masked stormed the walled compound. They asked first about her son Wael, then shot the guard in the leg before entering the house. Then he heard gunfire from inside.

Bugaighis's husband who reportedly was in the house at the time has disappeared since the attack, the paper and other Libyan media said.

During the 8-month civil war against Gadhafi, Bugaighis was a member of the National Transitional Council, the rebels' political leadership body. Since then, she was deputy head of the National Dialogue Panel, which is trying to work out reconciliation among the country's rival factions, tribes and communities.

On her Twitter page, U.S. ambassador Deborah K. Jones called her killing "a cowardly, despicable, shameful act against a courageous woman and true Libyan patriot. Heartbreaking."

The U.N. mission in Libya condemned the assassination in a statement, saying "once again, Benghazi witnesses a bloody attack, the last of a series largely targeting civilians."

Libyans voted on Wednesday in the country's second parliament elections, hoping for stability after three years of chaos since Gadhafi's ouster and death.