- Kuwait Times Extra
BENGHAZI, Libya: Washington’s envoy to Libya and three other Americans were killed when a mob angered over a movie mocking Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stormed the US consulate in Benghazi, sparking world outrage and drawing an apology from Libyan authorities yesterday. US President Barack Obama quickly ordered increased security at US diplomatic missions around the world, while slamming Tuesday’s deadly assault in Benghazi, an Islamist stronghold in eastern Libya, that coincided with the anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks in the United States.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” Obama said in a White House 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,” he added.
HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah expressed yesterday in a cable sent to Obama his deep condolences over the attack. Affirming Kuwait’s condemnation of such a heinous terrorist crime, the cable noted that these acts has nothing to do with Islamic values and international norms. HH the Deputy Amir and Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah also sent similar cables.
A 50-strong unit US Marine counter-terrorism unit was en route to Libya to bolster security, a defence official said. Stevens, a career officer with the US foreign service, had been in the country for less than four months after taking up his post in the capital Tripoli in May. Witnesses said he was killed when angry Islamists late Tuesday attacked the consulate with rocket-propelled grenades before looting and torching the building.
A security source in Benghazi – cradle of the 2011 uprising that toppled the regime of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi – said it was suspected that the envoy may have suffocated due to carbon monoxide poisoning. A picture taken by an AFP photographer shows what witnesses say is an injured Stevens being aided by Libyans inside the premises of the consulate. A US official said five or six Americans were wounded in the attack. Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said up to 10 Libyan security personnel were also killed or wounded.
Obama paid tribute to the Libyans who had given their lives. “Libyan security personnel fought back alongside Americans. Libyans helped some of the diplomats find safety and carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital where we tragically learned that he had died,” the US president said. “The attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the killings should “shock the consciences” of people of all faiths but vowed that the actions of “a savage and small group” would not make Washington turn its back on Libya. Obama ordered flags flown at half mast at all US public buildings until sundown on Sunday.
US officials said the precise circumstances of the attack were still under investigation and that it was too soon to conclude exactly what transpired. “It’s too early to say,” a US official, who asked not to be named, told AFP. Initial reports suggested the assault was triggered by outrage over an amateur, American-made movie that denigrates the Islamic faith. But subsequent speculation has raised the possibility of a deliberate plot by Islamist militants. Clips of the film at the centre of the controversy have been posted on the Internet and private satellite channels have been showing segments.
The low-budget movie, “Innocence of Muslims” in which actors have strong American accents, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent. The film was produced by Israeli-American Sam Bacile, according to the Wall Street Journal. A consultant on the project, Steve Klein, told AFP the name was a pseudonym. He said the filmmaker had been “very upset” by the news of the ambassador’s murder and had gone into hiding.
It was not immediately clear precisely how or where California-born ambassador – the first US diplomat to die in the line of duty since 1979 – was killed during the assault. Stevens was a key player when the Obama administration supported the anti-Gaddafi insurgency. US consular staff were rushed to a safe house after the initial attack, Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister Wanis Al-Sharif said. An evacuation plane with US commando units then arrived from Tripoli to evacuate them from the house. “It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it. There was shooting,” Sharif said. Two US personnel were killed there, he said. Two other people were killed at the main consular building and between 12 and 17 wounded.
Accounts of the consulate attack described chaos and bloodshed, with Libyan security overrun and retreating. “We started shooting at them, and then some other people also threw hand-made bombs over the fences and started the fires in the buildings,” said 17-year-old Hamam, who took part in the assault and refused to give his last name. “There was some Libyan security for the embassy outside but when the hand-made bombs went off they ran off and left,” said Hamam, who said he saw an American die in front of him in the mayhem that ensued. He said the body was covered in ash.
The violence in Benghazi was strongly condemned by Libya’s General National Congress, which nonetheless maintained it plans to elect a new prime minister at a session later yesterday. The first task for the new premier will be to bring order to the myriad of militias born out of last year’s uprising. “We present our apologies to the United States, the American people and the entire world for what happened,” the GNC’s president, Mohamed Al-Megaryef, said in a statement. The United Nations also condemned the killings. “The United Nations rejects defamation of religion in all forms. At the same time, nothing justifies the brutal violence which occurred in Benghazi yesterday.” a statement said.
The Benghazi assault came after thousands of Egyptian demonstrators Tuesday tore down the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy in Cairo and replaced it with a black Islamic flag, similar to one adopted by several militant groups. Nearly 3,000 demonstrators, most of them hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement, had gathered at the embassy in a protest over the film.
New protests against the film were held yesterday outside US missions in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia as well as Egypt. In Tunis, police fired teargas to disperse a crowd of several hundred. The Muslim Brotherhood called for protests outside mosques across Egypt tomorrow, while the Egyptian government condemned the film but called for restraint. The Vatican condemned both anti-Muslim “provocations” and the resulting “unacceptable violence.”
France, which was a major backer of the uprising that ousted Gaddafi, demanded that the new authorities take action to restore order in Benghazi which has seen a wave of violence in recent months. “We had hoped and continued to hope that it would pacify the country but obviously you can always have extremists who behave in this way,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is absolutely unacceptable and the Libyan authorities must react.” – Agencies
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