The US ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff were killed late Tuesday at the US Consulate building in Benghazi, which had been stormed by Islamic militants angry over a film that bashes the Prophet Mohammed.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was liked by many Libyans because he had argued passionately for NATO to get involved in the conflict which ultimately brought down Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, was killed as he and other embassy staff were being evacuated from the US consulate building in Benghazi. The building was stormed by gunmen, possibly linked to al-Qaida, who blamed America for an anti-Islamic film called “Innocence of Islam," made by an Israeli-American filmmaker named Sam Bacile who has since gone into hiding.
Gunmen attacked and set fire to the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was nerve center of the uprising last year that brought Gaddafi's 42-year rule to end, late on Tuesday evening. An almost simultaneous attack was mounted on the US embassy in Cairo. The protests were sparked by a 14-minute trailer of the movie, posted on YouTube, which openly ridicules the Prophet Mohammed. The shortened version of the video is being promoted and circulated by Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the Washington, DC area who has expressed extreme anti-Islamist views.
In the days before the attack, there were attempts among local Islamic activists to whip up anger toward the US over the video, a local reporter said in a phone interview.
"In recent days, Islamic groups in Benghazi had been calling on people, using social media websites and e-mails, to go to the consulate and protest over the film. They called on normal civilians to go and attack the consulate, and many people followed them. They were firing at the sky and trying to storm the consulate, so the guards from inside started shooting at them, and it deteriorated from there,” a Benghazi-based reporter for an Arabic satellite channel told The Jerusalem Post.
“Security intensified in Benghazi today, and the deputy minister of the interior came and described the attackers as Ghaddafi loyalists,” the reporter added.
In a news conference Wednesday, Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said the attackers were not mere protestors, and had used rocket-propelled grenades.
"There were RPGs...which shows there were forces exploiting this. They are remnants of the (former) regime," he said at the news conference. He also suggested that the attackers could have been acting in revenge for the extradition from Mauritania this month of Gaddafi's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi.
Prime Minister Abdurrahim Keib also spoke out against the attack, telling reporters: "This is a criminal act that will not go unpunished. This is part of a series of cowardice acts by supporters of the former regime who want to undermine Libya's revolution.”
Stevens took office in May, introducing himself and his goals for a new, post-tyranny Libya in a video. He had served as Special Representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011, during the height of the Libyan civil war, and as the Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007 to 2009. He had also served as Deputy Principal officer and Political Section Chief at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 2002 to 2006.