BENGHAZI, Libya -- Even in violent times in a violent city, the death of Salwa Bougaighis had the power to horrify.

The 47-year-old prominent human rights lawyer was attacked by masked men with guns and knives who stormed the walled compound where she lived in the eastern city of Benghazi late Wednesday, according to officials and news reports.

She died a short time later in a hospital of a gunshot wound to the head, according to Libya's state news agency. She had also been stabbed.

The attack came soon after the polls had closed in Libya's first parliamentary election since 2012. Bougaighis had documented that on Facebook as well, putting up a photo of herself at a polling station. Bougaighis' husband, who was said to have been home at the time of the assault, was reported missing.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Bougaighis had often come under threat for her activism. She was outspokenly critical of armed Islamist groups that have come to the fore, particularly in Benghazi, after the 2011 toppling and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Not long before her death, the lawyer had posted a photograph online, taken from her roof, which showed a military-style pickup truck mounted with a heavy gun. She said it was from an Islamist brigade's base that was close to where she lived.

Hours before the attack, she had also spoken by phone to a television station about fighting taking place nearby.

"The clashes are very close to my house and the situation is alarming," she told Alnabba TV.


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The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, called Bougaighis' death "heartbreaking" and the killing a "cowardly, despicable" act.

"This light cannot be extinguished," she tweeted.

Benghazi has been the center of a confrontation between renegade former general Khalifa Hifter and the Islamist militias on which he has declared war.