U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens has been killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by armed Islamist militiamen enraged over an American film deemed to insult Prophet Muhammad, media reports citing Libyan Interior Ministry officials said on Wednesday.
Stevens was reportedly among four U.S. officials killed in a rocket attack by militiamen who invaded the Consulate late Tuesday nibghgt. It is not clear whether the U.S. envoy and his colleagues were in a vehicle or inside the Consulate when they came under attack.
Earlier, armed militiamen had stormed the Consulate, shooting at buildings and throwing hand grenades into the compound. They subsequently set fire to the Consulate building. Dozens of firefighters were battling the blaze as emergency workers attempted to rescue people, if any, trapped inside the burning building.
Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif was quoted as saying earlier by various news agencies that further casualties were avoided as security personnel managed to evacuate other Consulate employees from the compound before the assailants torched the building.
Both the governments of the United States and Libya are yet to confirm the Ambassador's death in the Consulate attack. Incidentally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had earlier confirmed the death of one U.S. official in the Consulate attack. In a written statement issued on Tuesday. she, however, did not identify the deceased official.
Clinton said Washington was "heartbroken by this terrible loss," and noted that "some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet."
"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind," the top U.S. diplomat added.
Prior to her statement, the U.S. State Department condemned Tuesday's attack "in the strongest terms," and said it was working with Libyan security forces to secure the compound.
The film in question was produced by Sam Bacile, a 52-year-old U.S. citizen from California, and was promoted by an expatriate Egyptian Coptic Christian. Media reports indicated that both men had anti-Islamic views. An Arabic-translated trailer of the film was posted on the YouTube, prompting an outrage among Muslims across the globe.
Incidentally, Libya has been undergoing a democratic transition over the past year. The oil-rich North African nation held its first free elections in decades in July, following the toppling of Col. Moammar Qadhafi's autocratic regime in a NATO-backed armed rebellion last year.
In addition to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, a massive demonstration was held outside the U.S. Embassy in the Egyptian capital Cairo earlier on Tuesday to protest against the same film. During the demonstration, protesters managed to enter the Embassy compound, tear down the American flag and replace it with an Islamic banner. But no causalities were reported in that incident.
Subsequently, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement strongly condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
"We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others," the Embassy statement added.
Notably, Egypt had also witnessed a popular uprising during the so-called Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East last year. The uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down after handing over power to the country's military.
The Egyptian military in turn returned power in June to a civilian administration led by President Mohammed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood nominee who emerged victorious in the country's first-ever free Presidential elections held in June.
by RTT Staff Writer
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