TRIPOLI — The American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed when a mob of protesters and gunmen overwhelmed the US Consulate in Benghazi, setting fire to it in outrage over a film that ridicules Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Protesters across much of the Muslim World — Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Palestinian Territories — vent their anger at the blasphemous film by marching to the US missions and raising anti-American slogans.
The film, “Innocence of Muslims,” is directed by Sam Bacile, an Israeli filmmaker based in California. Bacile has gone into hiding after protests erupted in the Muslim World. The two-hour movie that came to attention in Egypt after its trailer was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as a crowd of hundreds attacked the consulate Tuesday evening, many of them firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
By the end of the assault, much of the building was burned out and trashed. Stevens was the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.
A Libyan doctor who treated Stevens said he died of severe asphyxiation, apparently from smoke. In a sign of chaos in the aftermath of the attack, Stevens was brought alone by Libyans to the Benghazi Medical Center with no other Americans, and no one at the facility knew who he was, the doctor, Ziad Abu Zeid, told The Associated Press.
Stevens was practically dead when he arrived close to 1 A.M. on Wednesday, but “we tried to revive him for an hour-and-a-half but with no success,” Abu Zeid said.
The ambassador had bleeding in his stomach because of the asphyxiation but no other injuries, he said.
Libya’s new president apologized for the attack, which underlined the lawlessness plaguing a region trying to recover from months of upheaval.
As Muslims in more and more countries have called for protests against the film, US President Barack Obama ordered increased security to protect American diplomatic personnel around the world.
Hours before the Benghazi attack, Egyptians angry over the film protested at the US Embassy in Cairo, climbing its walls and tearing down an American flag, which they replaced briefly with a black, Islamist flag.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” Obama said, adding the four Americans “exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe.”
Libya’s interim president, Mohammed Al-Megarif, apologized to the United States for the attack, which he described as “cowardly.” Speaking to reporters, he offered his condolences on the death of the four Americans and vowed to bring the culprits to justice and maintain his country’s close relations with the United States.
The three Americans killed with Stevens were security guards, Al-Megarif said.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s deputy UN ambassador said there were “maybe less than 10 victims from the (Libyan) security forces.”
He said “some of them were killed at the start of the attack.”
In Cairo, the riot police stood by the embassy’s walls but continued to allow protesters to climb them for several hours. The protesters, however, appeared to intentionally stick to certain limits. A few entered the embassy grounds to remove the flags and come back, but otherwise the chanting youth stayed on top of the walls without storming the compound or damaging property.
Western countries expressed outrage at the killing of the US ambassador. But Western condemnation collided with growing anger in the Muslim World over online clips of the low-budget film that sparked the consulate attack.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, blocked YouTube for nearly 90 minutes to discourage people from watching the film that it called an “inhuman and insulting act”.
Iran blamed the US for what it called the “repulsive” movie. “The US government has the responsibility to stop this dangerous trend in the spreading of insults to Islamic Ummah’s (nation’s) highest sanctities,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Libya’s government to ensure “a peaceful, secure and democratic future”.
The UN’s top political official, Jeffrey Feltman, said that at the world body “we condemn in the strongest terms” the attack, adding that the killings “further emphasize” Libya’s security challenges.
And Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski suggested that “extremist activities by Al-Qaeda” may have played a role in stirring up protesters’ emotions.
The killings drew wide condemnation in the rest of Europe. EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton called the attacks “despicable” and German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said they were “tragic and difficult to bear”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the Libyan authorities “to ensure that this is fully investigated, that those responsible are brought to justice”.
Canada echoed that call, with Minister for Foreign Affairs John Baird saying Libya must protect foreign diplomats and “ensure the extremists responsible are brought to swift justice”.
The Vatican for its part condemned both the anti-Muslim “provocations” of the film and the resulting “unacceptable violence”.
And Israel, closest US ally in the Middle East, conveyed its condolences, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying: “The people of Israel stand alongside the American people in their sorrow.” — Agencies