(BENGHAZI, LIBYA) — The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed when Libyan militants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Stevens, 52, died on Tuesday as 20 gun-wielding attackers stormed the U.S. consulate, angry about an American-made movie that depicted Prophet Mohammad as a fraud and a womanizer. The attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate, Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told a news conference in Benghazi.
Nearly a dozen Americans were inside the consulate at the time, guarded only by Libyan security. For nearly 20 minutes the Libyan guards exchanged fire with the attackers, who hurled a firebomb inside.
The militants burned down at least one building in the attack. It’s not clear whether Stevens was killed by smoke inhalation or was in a car, which may have been hit by a mortar, as he tried to escape.
Another American died from smoke inhalation during the attack. Two more individuals who worked with the Americans, possibly guards who were trying to get Stevens out of the area, were also killed.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives,” President Obama said in a statement.
“I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” the statement added.
Stevens, who was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and served two tours of duty in Libya, was nominated by President Obama to be ambassador to Libya early this year. His term of appointment began on May 22, and he was in Libya during the revolution, serving as the Amercan repreentavie to the transitional national council.
The U.S. is now evacuating all Americans working with the State Department from Benghazi, and the U.S. is also bracing for more attacks in the Middle East, and considers this an extremely dangerous situation in the region right now.
Anger over the movie that some believe insulted the Prophet Muhammad also provoked protests in Cairo Tuesday, where demonstrators climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy, took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag.
A senior U.S. official told ABC News the State Department is on alert throughout the region and fear there could be more attacks to come. ”
The group that attacked the consulate is called Ansar al Sharia, according to Libyan sources. The group has claimed responsibility for the attack but did not mention the movie as motivation. The group is close to al Qaeda ideology and exists in east Libya.
“I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement released Tuesday night. “As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.”
Libyan President Mohammed Yussef Magariaf promised to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in the country, condemned the assault on the embassy and pledged his government’s full cooperation, Clinton said.
In Cairo, dozens of protesters scaled the embassy walls and took down the flag from a pole in the courtyard. After trying unsuccessfully to burn it, they ripped it apart and replaced it with a black flag bearing Arabic writing. Reports that the black flag was from al Qaeda were not confirmed.
Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said today the United States was working with Egyptian security to restore order.
“This came up pretty quickly,” she said. “[It was a] relatively modest group of people and the Egyptian security was caught off guard.”
David Linfield, an embassy spokesman, said that no guns were involved.
“No one fired,” he said.
According to The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal and Egyptian media, the movie is called “Mohammed, Prophet of the Muslims” and has been promoted by Terry Jones, the controversial Florida preacher whose Koran burning in March 2010 led to the deadly violence in Afghanistan.
Jones said Tuesday in a statement that the movie was actually titled “Innocence of Muslims” and was intended not to attack Muslims but to show the “destructive ideology of Islam.”
“The movie further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad,” he said.
Egyptian media also reported that two Egyptians from the Christian minority Coptic group had helped with the movie. Clips in Arabic and English have been released on YouTube.
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. embassy said it condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
Billy Hallowell, Deseret News
Stephan Rockefeller, EastIdahoNews.com
Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com Columnist