US envoy to Libya killed in attack over Muhammad film
THE US ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff have been killed in an attack on the Benghazi consulate and a safe house refuge, stormed by Islamist gunmen blaming America for a film they said insulted the prophet Muhammad.
Gunmen attacked and set fire to the American consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday night, the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack, in the cradle of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
An earlier assault was mounted on the US embassy in Cairo and the Libyan attackers are thought to have taken their lead from the Egyptian incident.
President Barack Obama branded it an “outrageous attack” and ordered increased security at US diplomatic posts worldwide.
Violence also threatened to spread to other Muslim countries. By nightfall yesterday, 24 hours after the attacks in Egypt and Libya, police were firing tear gas at angry demonstrators outside the American embassy in Tunisia.
The attacks could alter US attitudes towards the wave of revolutions across the Arab world, which toppled secularist authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, bringing Islamists to power.
The violence could also influence the closely-fought US presidential election, in which Mr Obama’s challenger Mitt Romney has accused him of not defending Washington’s interests robustly enough.
Mr Romney issued a statement criticising Mr Obama’s response. The president’s campaign responded by accusing him of scoring political points at a time of national tragedy.
It was not immediately clear precisely how, or where, California-born ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed during the assault. Mr 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 move them.
“It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it. There was shooting,” Mr Sharif said. Two US personnel were killed there, he said, as well as two at the main consular building and between 12 and 17 wounded.
After the example of the prophet Muhammad cartoon protests of 2006, in which dozens were killed in protests across the Muslim world, Muslim leaders will be concerned about preventing the spread of violence. Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the film in a statement, calling its making “a devilish act” and saying he was certain those involved in its production represented a very small minority.
Afghanistan shut down the YouTube site so Afghans would not be able to see the film. Accounts of the consulate attack described chaos and bloodshed, with Libyan security over-run 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 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,” he added.
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