Top diplomat Hillary Clinton has confirmed that an American Embassy official was killed in a firefight at the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Libyan officials have identified U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens as one of the victims of a rocket attack on his vehicle as he was being taken to safety from the consulate which underwent heavy fire. The attackers at Benghazi have blamed their rage on an amateurish video promoted in the United States by controversial Evangelical pastor Terry Jones. The short marginal online video, which is not a documentary, depicts attacks on Christians by Muslim marauders, but also a dramatization of what is purportedly the life of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
The murders occurred on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Deploring the killing, Secretary Clinton said in a statement, "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. .. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack."¯ Saying that she had called upon Libya President Magariaf for support, Clinton sought to frame the attack in the light of what mobs in Egypt and Libya said is unjustified American denigration of Islam. Libya has struggled to rein in the organized groups of armed men who were once involved in the downfall of dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
Clinton stated, "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. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Pastor Jones has been perennially controversial because of his public burning of a copy of the Koran. His other inflammatory actions and statements have been blamed for violence and demonstrations in numerous Muslim countries, just as they were condemned by White House officials. Jones has characterized his video as a satirical treatment of the life of Mohammed, that also calls attention to the treatment of minorities living in Muslim dominated lands. In Egypt, mobs attacked the American embassy in Cairo and tore down the flag while also scrawling Islamist graffiti on the fortress-like walls of the mission. As in Libya, the attack was blamed by Islamists on Jonesâ€™ inflammatory film. Coincidently, the two attacks occurred as Americans recalled the deaths caused eleven years ago during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
According to Libyan officials speaking on September 12, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi on September 11 as he was fleeing the consulate compound in the city that saw much of the fighting since 2011 that led to the ouster of dictator Muammar Gadhafi. "The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them," said a Libyan official in Benghazi to Reuters news service. Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr, speaking for Libya's Supreme Security Committee, said, "There is a connection between this attack and the protests that have been happening in Cairo."
As for the American embassy in Tripoli, an employee said "We have no information regarding this." The embassy could confirm the death of one person. On September 11, Libyan security clashed with gunmen at the U.S. consulate. The gunmen hurled homemade bombs that set off fires within the compound. The gunmen ultimately overcame the Libyan security forces and entered the compound and burned it. Looters roamed through the building, while other attackers took videos of the destruction with their cell phones. Video of the event showed a burning vehicle near the entrance of the consular compound.
On September 11, spokesmen for Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque condemned Pastor Jones' film and its symbolic "trial" of Mohammed. However, it is not clear whether the event sponsored by the controversial pastor, or another, possibly related, anti-Islam production, may have brought on the fracas at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the deadly violence at the consulate in Benghazi. Following the attack in Cairo, the U.S. embassy issued a statement , saying 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 war of words has enflamed the current presidential contest in the U.S. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who has sought to make the case that President Obama has apologized long enough for American actions abroad, said "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in a statement. "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," he said. The White House deplored Romney's interjection into the affray. Romney, in previous statements, has said that he would never "apologize for America." The initial statement made by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that was criticized by Romney has now been removed.
UPDATE: "What has happened is terrible, but we need to avoid offending the peoples religious sensibility," said Apostolic Vicar Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, who represents the Vatican to the government of Libya, concerning the death of Ambassador Stevens and three officials. Concerning the film that apparently enflamed Muslim passion, Martinelli said "One has to respect the sensitivity of the Muslim population. The Arab countries are already in the throes of momentous upheaval, pouring gasoline on religious outrage is really dangerous. Not everything is good and holy, but we must try to understand the precise reality of these countries with their feelings." According to the Fides news service, following an attack on the U.S. embassy by demonstrators enraged by the film, Coptic Christians announced a protest against the film, which they say, "insults Islam."