U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens Killed in Consulate Attack in Benghazi
ABC News, September 12, 2012
U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed when Libyan militants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Tuesday night.
Stevens, 52, died as 20 gun-wielding attackers descended on the U.S. consulate, firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, 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.
Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith died from smoke inhalation during the attack.
Two more Americans, possibly guards who were trying to get Stevens out of the area, were also killed. U.S. officials are still making next of kin notifications, according to a statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It’s not clear what triggered the attack. Protesters in Egypt on Tuesday scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy and tore down the American flag in an angry demonstration against a movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, depicting the found of Islam as a fraud and a womanizer. It’s not certain whether the movie was a factor in the Libyan consulate attack.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” President Obama said in a statement. “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.
“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,” the president continued. “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.”
Stevens, who was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and served two tours of duty in Libya, began his term of appointment on May 22, and he was in Libya during the uprising that deposed Col. Muammar Qaddafi, serving as the American representative to the transitional national council.
The U.S. is now evacuating all Americans from Benghazi who were working with the State Department, and the U.S. is bracing for more attacks in the Middle East.
Anger over the film 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 fears there could be more attacks to come.
The group suspected of carrying out the consulate attack is called Ansar al Sharia, according to Libyan sources. But the group, which is close to al Qaeda in ideology and is based in east Libya, has denied responsibility for the attack.
It’s also not clear whether the movie played any role in the assault.
WATCH: Christiane Amanpour on Consulate 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 enraged by the movie 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 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.
The movie was made by Israeli producer Sam Bacile and has been promoted by controversial pastor 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.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement today condemning the movie and called it an “insult” to Islam.
“Desecration is not a part of the freedom of expression, but a criminal act that has now badly affected the righteous sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims all over the globe,” Karzai said.
The Libya attack also created a political storm in the U.S. In a statement Tuesday issued before the attacks on the diplomatic missions, the U.S. embassy in Cairo said it condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
Romney Criticizes Obama Administration’s Reaction to Libyan Attack Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, jumped on the embassy’s statement with one of his own.
“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
An Obama administration official tells ABC News that “no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn’t reflect the views of the U.S. government.”
Clinton said anger over a movie is no excuse for violence.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” she said. “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.”
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.