Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US ambassador and three staff 'killed in rocket attack' in Libya

Reported dead: John Christopher Stevens, left, US ambassador to Libya, shakes hands with Libyan National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil (right) during a meeting in Tripoli on June 7, 2012

The US ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were today killed in a rocket attack in Benghazi, according to a Libyan official.
The death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was reported by Reuters, who had spoken to a source in Libya.

'The Libyan ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,' the official in Benghazi said.

According to the Libyan official, the U.S. ambassador had been on his way to a safer venue after protesters attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and opened fire, killing a staff member, in protest at film that they deemed blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammad.

The official said the ambassador and three other staff were killed when gunmen fired rockets at his car.

He said the U.S. Embassy had sent a military plane to transport the bodies to Tripoli to fly them to the United States.

The news today follows confirmation by Secretary of state Hillary Clinton last night that a US state department officer had been killed in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Another American worker was wounded in the hand.

Witnesses said that much of the consulate has been burned by a fire set inside. Pictures from the area showed the building engulfed by flames.

The video, called Innocence of Muslims, is shot in English, but provides Arabic subtitles.

It was written, directed and produced by Israeli-American real-estate developer Sam Bacile in California, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Bacile, 52, told the paper that he regards Islam as a 'cancer' and was able to produce the film with $5million that he raised with the help of about 100 Jewish donors.

The film, clips of which were put on the video-sharing website YouTube, depicts Muhammad as a fraud, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

Throughout the video, 'Muhammad' - portrayed by an American actor - is branded a 'bastard,' 'rapist' and 'child molester' by other actors in the film.

Films or cartoons ridiculing Muhammad are considered highly offensive in the Muslim world, seen as both blasphemous and an insult and often precursors to violent protests.

Such demonstrations not uncommon when Muslims feel their religion is defamed.

Earlier this year, Afghanistan rallied against the U.S. after dozens of copies of the Koran - the Muslim holy book - were found burned by U.S. soldiers stationed there.

But the incidents are not just in the Middle East.

Cartoonist Molly Norris was forced to go into hiding in 2010 after she appeared on a terrorist hit list over a cartoon she drew in Seattle Weekly.

Pastor Terry Jones ignited uproar after he planned a ‘Koran burning day’ for September 11, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. The event was ultimately cancelled.

He tried again earlier this year, setting several copies of the book on fire. He was fined $300 by the local fire department.

Threats were reported against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone after Muhammad was portrayed in an episode of the popular cartoon in 2011.

Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way.

The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

Wanis al-Sharef, an interior ministry official in Benghazi, said the two American victims were shot yesterday at the consulate during an attack by armed men who stormed the building.

He provided no further details.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement on last night that she condemned the attack in the strongest terms and has called the Libyan president to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya.

She said that some are trying to justify 'this vicious behavior' as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.

She said the U.S. deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but that there is never any justification for violent acts like this.

She said the U.S. is working with partner governments around the world to protect American personnel, missions and citizens.

A witness to the attack yesterday said that men fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the facility.

Outnumbered by the crowd, Libyan security forces did little to stop them, said Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official in Benghazi.

The crowd overwhelmed the facility and set fire to it, burning most of it and looting the contents, witnesses said.

The American's death in Benghazi is the first of an American embassy worker since Khairy Ramadan Aly, who was shot to death in February 2011.

Aly was an Egyptian national working as a carpenter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

In response to the film in Caro, a mob climbed the walls of the compound, making their way into the courtyard and replacing the American Stars and Stripes with a black flag bearing an Islamic inscription.

Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, took down the flag from a pole in the courtyard and brought it back to the crowd outside.

The crowd tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart.

The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith on it, 'There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.'

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was working with Egyptian authorities to try to restore order.

All the staff had left before the embassy was breached, a U.S. official said.

Only a few staff members were still inside, as embassy security had sent most staff home early after learning of the upcoming protest.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying, in part, that it condemns 'the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.'

The statement, an apparent reference to the video, was posted hours before the American's death in Libya was reported.

In a statement last night, Romney said he was outraged by the attacks and the death of the American consulate worker.

He added: 'It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.'
About a 10th of Egypt's 83 million people are Christians.

Protests have become a common feature in Egypt since the uprising that ousted long-time Mubarak.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in July, after Mursi was sworn in, her motorcade was pelted with tomatoes.

In Mubarak's era, protests were usually swiftly halted by an often brutally efficient police force. - Daily Mail

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