The US ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were today killed in a rocket attack in Benghazi, according to a Libyan official.
The death of the diplomat Christopher Stevens, was reported by Reuters, who had spoken to a source in Libya.
‘The Libyan ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,’ the official in the eastern city of Benghazi said.
According to the Libyan official, the U.S. ambassador had been on his way to a safer venue after protesters attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and opened fire, killing a staff member, in protest at film that they deemed blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammad.
Reported dead: John Christopher Stevens, left, US ambassador to Libya, shakes hands with Libyan National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil (right) during a meeting in Tripoli on June 7, 2012
Revolt: An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya
In flames: The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is seen on fire during a protest by an armed group protesting a film being produced in the United States
The official said the ambassador and three other staff were killed when gunmen fired rockets at his car.
He said the U.S. Embassy had sent a military plane to transport the bodies to Tripoli to fly them to the United States.
Christopher Stevens arrived in Tripoli in May 2012 as U.S. Ambassador to Libya, but had served twice previously in the country.
He was the Special Representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the Libyan revolution and as the Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007 to 2009.
The news today follows confirmation by Secretary of state Hillary Clinton last night that a US state department officer had been killed in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Another American worker was wounded in the hand.
Destruction: Plumes of smoke and flames can be seen rising out of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi after the building was raided by gunmen who set it on fire
Protest: An American worker was shot to death and another was injured as the armed demonstrators swarmed the embassy in Benghazi
WHY IS ‘INNOCENCE OF MUSLIMS’ SO OFFENSIVE?
Protesters angered over the film, fired gunshots and burned down the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and tore and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner.
Yesterdays attacks were the first such assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak, in uprisings last year.
The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film produced by an Israeli filmmaker living in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States.
Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed that one State Department officer had been killed in the protest at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
She strongly condemned the attack and said she had called Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif ‘to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya.’
Clinton expressed concern that the protests might spread to other countries. She said the U.S. is working with ‘partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.’
‘Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,’ Clinton said in a statement released by the State Department.
‘The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.’
In Benghazi, a large mob stormed the U.S. consulate, with gunmen firing their weapons, said Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official in Benghazi.
A witness said attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the facility.
Outnumbered by the crowd, Libyan security forces did little to stop them, al-Sharef said.
The crowd overwhelmed the facility and set fire to it, burning most of it and looting the contents, witnesses said.
One American was shot to death and a second was wounded in the hand, al-Sharef said. He did not give further details.
The violence at the consulate lasted for about three hours, but the situation has now quieted down, said another witness.
‘I heard nearly 10 explosions and all kinds of weapons. It was a terrifying day,’ said the witness who refused to give his name because he feared retribution.
Hours before the Benghazi attack, hundreds of mainly ultraconservative Islamist protesters in Egypt marched to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie and the U.S.
Most of the embassy staff had left the compound earlier because of warnings of the upcoming demonstration.
‘Say it, don’t fear: Their ambassador must leave,’ the crowd chanted.
Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, and several went into the courtyard and took down the American flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that tore it apart.
The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with a Muslim declaration of faith, ‘There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.’
The flag is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.
The mob climbed the walls of the compound in Cairo and ripped down the U.S. flag
Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt
Egyptian riot police stand guard as protesters climb down from the wall of the embassy
Thousands of Egyptian demonstrators were angered by a film produced by expatriate members of Egypt’s Christian minority resident in the United States
Egyptian protesters pray outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo
An Egyptian protester (centre) holds a placard reading in Arabic ‘no to sectarian strife’ during the protest
The crowd grew throughout Tuesday evening, with thousands standing outside the embassy. Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls but did not stop protesters as they continued to climb and stand on the wall – though it appeared no more went into the compound.
The crowd chanted, ‘Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die.’ Some shouted, ‘We are all Osama,’ referring to al-Qaida leader bin Laden.
Young men, some in masks, sprayed graffiti on the walls. Some grumbled that Islamist President Mohammed Morsi had not spoken out about the movie.
A group of women in black veils and robes that left only their eyes exposed chanted, ‘Worshippers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Muhammad alone.’ By midnight, the crowd dwindled.
By early today, only about a dozen protesters remained, chanting ‘No God but Allah’ for the benefit of news camera at the scene. Two bearded men nearby loudly debated about way to stop ‘America from harming the prophet.’
Most streets leading up to the embassy reopened to traffic except for a side street employees use to enter the compound. Six Egyptian army armored vehicles were parked, next to a line of anti-riot police in helmets and body armor.
The embassy announced there will be no visa services today.
A senior Egyptian security official at the embassy area said earlier last night that authorities allowed the protest because it was ‘peaceful.’
When they started climbing the walls, he said he called for more troops, denying that the protesters stormed the embassy. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The Cairo embassy is in a diplomatic area in Garden City, where the British and Italian embassies are located, only a few blocks away from Tahrir Square, the center of last year’s uprising that led to the ouster of Mubarak.
The U.S. Embassy is built like a fortress, with a wall several metres high.
But security has been scaled back in recent months, with several roadblocks leading to the facility removed after legal court cases by residents.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry promised in a statement to provide the necessary security for diplomatic missions and embassies and warned that ‘such incidents will negatively impact the image of stability in Egypt, which will have consequences on the life of its citizens.’
One protester, Hossam Ahmed, said he was among those who entered the embassy compound and replaced the American flag with the black one. He said the group has now removed the black flag from the pole and laid it instead on a ladder on top of the wall.
‘This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet,’ said another, bearded young protester, Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim.
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In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Egyptian police had removed the demonstrators who entered the embassy grounds. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way.
The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.
A 14-minute trailer of the movie that sparked the protests, posted on the website YouTube in an original English version and another dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
The website’s guidelines call for removing videos that include a threat of violence, but not those that only express opinions. YouTube’s practice is not to comment on specific videos.
Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew and who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding today, remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
Bacile said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world.
‘Islam is a cancer, period,’ he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.
Though Bacile was apologetic about the American who was killed in Benghazi, he blamed lax embassy security and the perpetrators of the violence.
‘I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,’ said Bacile. ‘America should do something to change it.’
‘I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,’ said Bacile. ‘America should do something to change it.’
Bacile said the film was produced in English and he doesn’t know who dubbed it in Arabic. The full film has been shown once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year, he said.
Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the U.S. known for his anti-Islam views, told The Associated Press from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.
Both depicted the film as showing how Coptic Christians are oppressed in Egypt, though it goes well beyond that to ridicule Muhammad – a reflection of their contention that Islam as a religion is inherently oppressive.
‘The main problem is I am the first one to put on the screen someone who is (portraying) Muhammad. It makes them mad,’ Bacile said. ‘But we have to open the door. After 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Muhammad.’
For several days, Egyptian media have been reporting on the video, playing some excerpts from it and blaming Sadek for it, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.
Medhat Klada, a representative of Coptic Christian organizations in Europe, said Sadek’s views are not representative of expatriate Copts.
‘He is an extremist … We don’t go down this road. He has incited the people (in Egypt) against Copts,’ he said, speaking from Switzerland. ‘We refuse any attacks on religions because of a moral position.’
But he said he was concerned about the backlash from angry Islamists, saying their protest only promotes the movie. ‘They don’t know dialogue and they think that Islam will be offended from a movie.’
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