US ambassador to Libya, 3 American staff members killed in attack
The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American staff members were killed Tuesday in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, the White House confirmed. President Obama, in a written statement issued Wednesday morning, called the attack “outrageous” and “senseless.”
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff. The protesters, angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, were firing gunshots and rocket-propelled grenades.
“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 Wednesday morning. “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.”
The president is expected to address the tragedy from the Rose Garden at 10:35 a.m. ET.
Obama, in his statement, said he’s directed the administration to provide “all necessary resources” to support security for U.S. personnel in Libya and to increase security at diplomatic offices around the world. One U.S. official said a team of 50 Marines is being deployed to Benghazi to secure the compound.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama called Stevens “a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States” who “selflessly served our country and the Libyan people” throughout the Libyan revolution.
“His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice,” the president said.
The State Department identified one of the other three Americans killed as Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, a husband and father of two who had worked for the State Department for 10 years. The U.S. government is still notifying the next of kin for the other two individuals killed, and has not identified them.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Stevens as a passionate and dedicated diplomat who had devoted himself to the transition in post-Qaddafi Libya.
“As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation,” she said.
Stevens was appointed as ambassador to Libya in May 2012.
He served as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council during the revolution in 2011, and as the deputy chief of mission from 2007 to 2009. Originally from California, Stevens was an international trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in the early 1990s. He also served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps from 1983 to 1985, teaching English in Morocco.
U.S. officials remain on alert for violence at other diplomatic posts.
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.
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, similar to the banner used by Al Qaeda, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Algiers was warning Americans in the country to avoid non-essential travel amid calls for more protests after the Libya attack.