U.S. Ambassador Stevens To Libya, & 3 Embassy Staffers Killed American Consulate In Benghazi

Reply Wed 12 Sep, 2012 08:34 am
J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador To Libya, And 3 Embassy Staffers Killed In Attack On American Consulate In Benghazi
AP | By ESAM MOHAMED and MAGGIE MICHAEL Posted: 09/12/2012 : 09/12/2012

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Dozens of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have burned American flags and chanted "Death to America," protesting an American film that mocks the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The protest Wednesday in Gaza City was sponsored by supporters of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group aligned with the ruling Hamas movement.

Some protesters carried swords, axes and black flags. They also used knives to cut posters of Morris Sadek, the Egyptian-born Christian who has promoted the film.

They chanted, "Shame on everyone who insults the prophet."

Hamas, the larger militant group that governs Gaza, also condemned the film.

Its religious affairs minister, Ismail Radwan, called it an "insult to the millions of Muslims all over the world."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. He was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.

President Barack Obama ordered increased security to protect American diplomatic personnel around world.

"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 el-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, he said.

"We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world," el-Megarif said.

The attack in Libya came hours after Egyptian protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and temporarily replacing it with a black Islamic banner.

The brazen assaults - the first on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country - underscored the lawlessness that has taken hold in both Egypt and Libya after revolutions ousted their autocratic secular regimes and upended the tightly controlled police state in both countries. Islamists, who were long repressed under the previous regimes, have emerged as a powerful force but new governments in both nations are struggling to achieve stability.

Egypt's police, a onetime hated force blamed for massive human rights abuses, have yet to fully take back the streets after Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February 2011.

On Tuesday, 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.

The uproar over the film also poses a new test for Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who has yet to condemn the riot outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo or say anything about the offending film. The protest was by mostly ultraconservative Islamists.

The film was produced by a California filmmaker who identifies himself as both American and Israeli, though Israeli officials said Wednesday they had no record of him as a citizen. The film was being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

Ultraconservative Islamists also were suspected of being behind the Benghazi attack. Advocating a strict interpretation of Islam, they have bulldozed Sufi shrines and mosques that house tombs in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and other cities, including ancient sites dating back to 5,000 years ago.

Heavily armed, ultraconservative groups like Ansar al-Shariah, or Supporters of Shariah, have claimed responsibility for the attacks on the shrines, declaring Sufi practices as "heretical."

Libya has been also hit by a series of recent attacks that served as evidence of the deep and persistent security vacuum in the country after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime, which was ousted by rebels backed by a NATO air campaign. Many Libyans believe that unrest in their country is in part the work of Gadhafi's loyalists who want to undermine efforts to rebuild the country after last year's ruinous civil war.

Stevens was a career diplomat who spoke Arabic and French and had already served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt against Gadhafi. He was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate earlier this year.

Before Tuesday, five U.S. ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty, the last being Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979, according to the State Department historian's office.

The protests were sparked by an obscure, two-hour movie titled "Innocence of Muslims," which came to attention in Egypt after its trailer was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube.

Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer, said he wrote, produced and directed the movie.

Bacile told The Associated Press he was an Israeli Jew and an American citizen.

Israeli officials said Wednesday they had not heard of Bacile and there was no record of him being a citizen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to share personal information with the media.

Bacile said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction. Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.

Bacile said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam's flaws to the world. "Islam is a cancer, period," he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.

Israel, however, sought to distance itself from Bacile.

"It's obvious we'll have to be vigilant. Anything he did or said has nothing to do whatsoever with Israel. He may claim what he wants. This was not done with or for or through Israel." Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday.

Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Joseph Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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Reply Fri 14 Sep, 2012 10:35 am
September 14, 2012
No protest before Benghazi attack, wounded Libyan guard says
By Nancy A. Youssef and Suliman Ali Zway | McClatchy Newspapers

BENGHAZI, Libya -- ]

A Libyan security guard who said he was at the U.S. consulate here when it was attacked Tuesday night has provided new evidence that the assault on the compound that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was a planned attack by armed Islamists and not the outgrowth of a protest over an online video that mocks Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad.

The guard, interviewed Thursday in the hospital where he is being treated for five shrapnel wounds in one leg and two bullet wounds in the other, said that the consulate area was quiet – “there wasn’t a single ant outside,” he said – until about 9:35 p.m., when as many as 125 armed men descended on the compound from all directions.

The men lobbed grenades into the compound, wounding the guard and knocking him to the ground, then stormed through the facility’s main gate, shouting “God is great” and moving to one of the many villas that make up the consulate compound. He said there had been no warning that an attack was imminent.

“Wouldn’t you expect if there were protesters outside that the Americans would leave?” the guard said.

The guard, located by searching hospitals for people injured Tuesday night, said he was 27 years old but declined to give his name. He asked that the hospital where he is being treated not be identified for fear that militants would track him down and kill him. He said he was able to escape by telling one of the attackers that he was only a gardener at the compound. The attacker took him to the hospital, the guard said.

Libyan authorities told reporters Thursday that they had made four arrests in connection with the consulate assault, but they cautioned that leaders of the group blamed for the attack, an Islamist organization known as Ansar al Shariah, denied that they had given the order to attack. But the guard’s tale suggested that whoever ordered the assault had been able to call upon a large number of people to carry out what appeared to be an organized attack.

Wanis al Sharif, the deputy interior minister responsible for Libya’s eastern region, which includes Benghazi, told a group of local reporters that in addition to the four people under arrest, authorities were monitoring others for possible involvement in the attack.

“There is a group under our control, and there is another we are monitoring,” Sharif said.

Sharif said that Ansar al Shariah’s leaders had suggested that those carrying the group’s flag during the assault were rogue members acting on their own.

“They called me and told me you have wronged us,” Sharif said. “They told me that there may be individual acts.”

Ansar al Shariah – Partisans of Islamic law – which is based in Benghazi, is one of the largest Islamic extremist groups now operating in Libya, according to an analysis published Wednesday by Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The shadowy organization is led by Muhammad Zahawi and maintains "online connections" to a similarly named group in Tunisia. A unit, or katiba, based in Derna, an eastern town from which extremists made their way to fight U.S. forces in Iraq, is commanded by a former Guantanamo prison detainee, Abu Sufayan bin Qumu, according to Zelin.

Where Sharif’s findings would fit in the U.S. investigation into the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the other Americans remained unclear. But the guard’s tale suggests that there were many more than four people involved in the attack.

The attack itself, the guard said, was immediate and bold, initiated by a group of men who approached the compound and lobbed grenades over the wall. Just behind them were scores of men, shooting wildly and yelling “God is great.”

The guard, who said he’d been hired seven months ago by a British company to protect the compound, said the first explosion knocked him to the ground, and he was unable to fire his weapon. Four other contracted guards and three members of Libya’s 17th of February Brigade, a group formed during the first days of the anti-Gadhafi uprising and now considered part of Libya’s military, were protecting the outside perimeter of the compound.

After storming through the gate, the guard said, the men rushed into one of the compound’s buildings, meeting no resistance. The guard did not say whether that was the building where the ambassador was.

Thirty minutes later, the guard said, he realized he was about to lose consciousness and asked one of the attackers for help, saying he was merely a gardener at the compound. The man agreed to drive him to the hospital. As they were leaving, the guard said he saw the attackers enter a second villa on the compound.

Stevens and consulate computer expert Sean Smith are believed to have been overcome by smoke in the main consulate building. Two other State Department employees were shot and killed by the invaders at another building on the compound where Americans had sought refuge. The two men, both former Navy SEALs who were working as security contractors, were identified by family members as Glen A. Doherty, 42, a native of Winchester, Mass., and Tyrone Woods, 41, of Imperial Beach, Calif. At least three other embassy employees were wounded.

A Libyan emergency room doctor who treated Stevens said Libyan security guards brought him to the hospital at 1 a.m., his lips black and his body reeking of smoke.

He was officially pronounced dead at 1:45 a.m. from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, but the doctor who tried to revive him, Ziad Bouzaid, 31, said Stevens was dead on arrival. Bouzaid said the body bore no other signs of injury.

The guard’s tale is consistent with a version offered Wednesday by the man who had leased the compound to the United States.

Standing outside the fire-gutted compound, Mohammad al Bishari said the attack began with assailants carrying assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and the black flag of Ansar al Shariah moving from two directions against the compound.

The FBI has launched its own investigation into what took place, and two American destroyers, the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, were expected to take up positions by early next off the coast near Benghazi in what many here interpreted as preparations for a possible retaliatory attack. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama promised justice in the case.

Meanwhile, fallout continued Thursday from anger over an online video that Muslims said denigrated their religion.

In Sanaa, Yemen, demonstrators protesting the video tried to storm the U.S. Embassy, making it past an initial security line but failing to make it to any of the main embassy compound buildings. Demonstrators burned tires and spray-painted “Death of America” on the wall surrounding the compound before they were repulsed by Yemeni security forces firing tear gas and warning shots.

No embassy staff was injured, but four demonstrators were killed and as many as 30 others injured.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi quickly condemned the attack and vowed to punish those responsible for it.

Unrest continued as well Thursday in Cairo, where on Tuesday protesters breached the embassy compound’s wall and tore down and burned the American flag. Protests continued Thursday, even though Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, speaking publicly on the attacks for the first time, condemned them.

No one has claimed responsibility for the consulate assault, something that perhaps is unsurprising in this part of Libya, where Stevens was a popular ambassador representing a nation many here believed saved Benghazi from a massacre during the rebellion against toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi’s tanks were on the edge of the city, preparing to overrun it, when NATO jets began their bombing campaign March 19, 2011.

Indeed, throughout the day Thursday, Libyans nationwide held rallies in support of the ambassador, carrying signs in Arabic and at times broken English offering their support.

“Sorry People of America, this not the Pehavior our Islam and Profit,” one read.

A young man in Benghazi carried a sign that read: “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyan people”

Zway reported from Benghazi, Libya, and Youssef from Cairo. McClatchy special correspondents Adam Baron from Sanaa, Yemen, and Mel Frykberg from Cairo contributed.
Reply Mon 17 Sep, 2012 10:10 am
Consulate Attack Preplanned, Libya's President Says
by Leila Fadel - NPR Weekend Edition Sunday
September 16, 2012

Libya's president says he believes al-Qaida is behind a deadly attack in eastern Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. staffers.

In an exclusive interview with NPR in Benghazi, President Mohammed el-Megarif says foreigners infiltrated Libya over the past few months, planned the attack and used Libyans to carry it out.

Wearing the traditional long white robe of men in Libya, Megarif is visibly exhausted when we speak to him at his home in Benghazi. As he describes the ambush on the U.S. consulate that killed Stevens and three other Americans, his eyes water and he drops his head.

"Our friend and friend of all Libyans and all residents of Benghazi and we feel very, very, very," deep sadness, he says.

A steady stream of people files in and out of the soft-spoken president's home. This eastern Libyan city was the birthplace of the revolt against late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Now it is a neglected place, with few security forces on the street and a flood of heavy weaponry.

Megarif says that over the past few months, foreigners took advantage of the security vacuum and flowed into the country from Mali and Algeria. I ask if this attack was over an anti-Muslim film that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. He shakes his head.

"The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous," he says. "We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate."

The attackers used the protesters outside the consulate as a cover, he says.

"The intention was there from the beginning, for it to take this ugly barbaric, criminal form," he says.

Megarif claims evidence shows that some elements of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group in eastern Benghazi, were used as tools by foreign citizens with ties to al-Qaida to attack the consulate and threaten Libya's stability.

Ansar al-Sharia rejects the democratic process in Libya, and does not recognize the new Libyan government. Only God's law rules, it says. Still, U.S. officials have cast doubt on the theory, saying they see no links between the assault and al-Qaida at large. The spokesman for the U.S. president said Friday there was no evidence the attack was preplanned. Ansar al-Sharia has denied any involvement in the attack.

The ambush earlier this week gets at a deeper security problem in Libya: The government has no control over the heavy weaponry that proliferated during the days of the rebellion. There is no functioning justice system, and Megarif says extremist elements have infiltrated the security apparatus.

"We are working on an emergency plan and exceptional measures to close those holes," he says.

He seems disappointed that an FBI investigative team chose not to come to Libya. The team's trip was reportedly postponed because of the security situation. He hopes the group is still on its way, with more advanced tools to investigate.

This is both a domestic and diplomatic crisis for Megarif. The U.S. is a major backer of the new Libyan authority. Stevens was sent as an envoy to Benghazi during the rebellion before becoming ambassador to the new Libya.

"We hope that this act, as tragic and sad as it was, will not have an effect on this strong relationship, which will only grow stronger in the future," he says.

But finding and bringing the perpetrators to justice remains a challenge. He says about 10 people are in custody but didn't specify if they are Libyan or foreign.

"I think that the atmosphere surrounding Libyans, with the exception of this small group, is a sense of disgust towards this incident," he says. "Their spirit shows that they are ready to cooperate with the authorities to put an end to this danger that infiltrated the country."

The toll of this crisis is evident on Megarif's face as we speak. He is in damage-control mode and expresses deep sadness and apologizes to the American people.

"What is helping ease our grief is what we saw from both the president and the secretary of state: the understanding of the exceptional circumstances that Libya is going through and that this act does not represent the Libyan people nor what they are longing for in the future," he says.

Libyans, he says, should no longer feel they are at the mercy of these armed groups. But the reality is that until the government here exerts control, they are.
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