CAIRO/BENGHAZI - Protesters in Egypt and Libya attacked US diplomatic
missions on Tuesday in a spasm of violence that led to the death of a
State Department officer at the consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi
after fierce clashes at the compound.
US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, in a statement late on Tuesday, confirmed the death of
the US diplomat, who was not identified, and condemned the attack on the
Benghazi consulate, after a day of mayhem in two countries that raised
fresh questions about Washington's relations with the Arab world.
A Libyan official claimed Wednesday that the US ambassador to the country and three other embassy staff were killed when a rocket targeted their vehicle while they were fleeing the consulate.
"The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them," the official in Benghazi told Reuters. Asked about the deaths, a US Embassy employee in Tripoli said: "We have no information regarding this." The employee said the embassy could confirm the death of one person.
violence in Benghazi followed protests in neighboring Egypt where
protesters scaled the walls of the Cairo embassy and tore down the
American flag and burned it during protests over what demonstrators said
was a US film that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned
a symbolic "trial" of the Prophet organized by a US group including
Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who triggered riots in Afghanistan in
2010 by threatening to burn the Koran.
But it was not immediately
clear whether it was the event sponsored by Jones, or another, possibly
related, anti-Islam production, that prompted the melee at the US
Embassy in Egypt, and possibly the violence in Libya.
the cause, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the
Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties
with Arab dictators who could be counted on to muzzle dissent.
President Barack Obama's administration in recent weeks had appeared to
overcome some of its initial caution following the election of an
Islamist Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy, offering his government
desperately needed debt relief and backing for international loans.
Libya, gunmen in Benghazi attacked the US diplomatic compound on
Tuesday evening, clashing with Libyan security forces, officials said.
Al-Hurr, spokesman for Libya's Supreme Security Committee, said, "There
is a connection between this attack and the protests that have been
happening in Cairo."
But a US official in Washington, speaking on
condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to believe the two
incidents were linked.
Jones, the Christian pastor in Florida,
said that on Tuesday's anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he had released a video promoting a
film that portrayed the Prophet in a "satirical" manner. Many Muslims
consider any depiction of the Prophet offensive.
including The Wall Street Journal, reported that the film at issue,
entitled "Innocence of Muslims," was produced by an Israeli-American
real estate developer, but had been promoted by Jones.
among about 2,000 protesters gathered in the Egyptian capital was Ismail
Mahmoud, who, like others, did not name the film that angered him, but
called on Morsy, Egypt's first civilian president, to take action.
the US flag was hauled down in Cairo, some protesters tore it up and
displayed bits to television cameras. Others burned the remnants outside
the fortress-like embassy building in central Cairo. But some
protesters objected to the flag burning.
Heavy clashes in Benghazi
Benghazi, Reuters reporters on the scene could see looters raiding the
empty US consulate's compound, walking off with desks, chairs and
Unknown gunmen were shooting at the buildings,
while others threw handmade bombs into the compound, setting off small
explosions. Small fires were burning around the compound.
Passersby entered the unsecured compound to take pictures with their mobile phones and watch the looting.
No security forces could be seen around the consulate and a previous blockade of the road leading to it had been dismantled.
"The Libyan security forces came under heavy fire and we were not prepared for the intensity of the attack," Hurr said.
interim government has struggled to impose its authority on a myriad of
armed groups that have refused to lay down their weapons and often take
the law into their own hands.
A number of security violations
have rocked Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city and the cradle of last
year's revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
The breaching of the
US Embassy walls in Cairo comes at a delicate time in US-Egyptian
relations, and as the United States appeared to be trying an intensified
engagement with Morsy's government.
Last week, US officials said
they were close to a deal with Egypt's government for $1 billion in
debt relief. Washington had also signaled its backing for a badly needed
$4.8 billion loan that Egypt is seeking from the International Monetary
"I would urge you not to draw too many conclusions because
we've also had some very positive developments in our relationship with
Egypt," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
of the things about the new Egypt is that protest is possible," she
said. "Obviously we all want to see peaceful protest, which is not what
happened outside the US mission, so we're trying to restore calm now."
has a large mission in Egypt, partly because of a huge aid program that
followed Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The
United States gives $1.3 billion to Egypt's military each year and
offers the nation other aid.
Following the protest, Egypt's Foreign Ministry said it was committed to giving all embassies the protection they needed.