News / Middle East

In Libya, Shock, Division Follow US Embassy Attack

A protester waves his rifle as flames engulf the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi September 11, 2012.
A protester waves his rifle as flames engulf the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi September 11, 2012.

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— The call to prayer sounded over a subdued Tripoli Thursday as residents of Libya’s capital tried to understand the killings of the U.S. ambassador and three diplomats during the storming of the American consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.
 
For many Libyans, the deaths late Tuesday night were shocking enough and apologies are thrust on Americans encountered on the streets. Libyan leaders also apologized, stressed their unity with Washington and vowed to track down the killers.
 
But beyond the condolences and apologies was a worry – worry that the United States and western nations might give up on Libya, possibly making their struggling government even weaker.
 
As the news circulated among Libyan activists that the U.S. embassy was evacuating, along with private U.S. assistance groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, fear mixed in with the shock.
 
“It is very bad,” said Ahlam Ben Tabon, who works at the domestic branch of a non-governmental organization (NGO), Foundation for the Future. “The government is not in control and this is a real calamity. We need the Americans.”
 
Two months ago, Libyans celebrated their first elections after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. They did so with joy mixed with relief. The elections had gone well, despite a disappointingly low turnout. Worst-case predictions that federalists in the east would derail the elections didn’t come to pass and violence was minimal. The general feeling was that Libya was on the path to stability.
 
Security challenges remain

But security challenges for the country have remained, including simmering ethnic disputes in the south, clashes between town-based militias and a series of assassinations of former Gadhafi military and intelligence officers. And in recent weeks, there has been a surge in violence by Islamist groups intent on ridding Libya of anything that does not fit ultra-conservative Muslim ideology. That would include Sufi mosques and shrines as well as university and school classes that mix genders.
 
US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens

  • Served as U.S. ambassador to Libya since May
  • Held two earlier postings in Libya
  • Previous assignments in Israel, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia
  • Worked as an international trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in 1991
  • Taught English in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1983 to 1985
The storming of the U.S. consulate and the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens has highlighted for many just how vulnerable and fragile Libya is right now.
 
The president of the newly installed General National Congress, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, lashed out at foes wanting to impede “our democratic experiment.
“We together with the United States government are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these murderous outlaws,” Magariaf said.

Magariaf also promised new measures to ensure the security of foreign diplomats and residents and all efforts would be made to track down the embassy attackers.
 
Who carried out attack?

But neither Magariaf nor the country’s outgoing prime minister, Abdurrahim Abdulhafiz El-Keib, can agree on the identity of the attackers: remnants of the Gadhafi regime or militant Salafists.

In recent weeks, Libyan leaders have reflexively blamed former Gadhafi officials – it is easier that way. But for Ahlam Ben Tabon, there is no doubt.

“The Benghazi attack wasn’t the work of Gadhafi people; it was Salafists,” she said. “And some in the government like to confuse the issue because some of them are linked in Islamist belief with the Salafists who carried out the attack.”

She is not the only one who thinks that. Political activists attending a rally in Algiers Square in downtown Tripoli Wednesday night to protest the Benghazi attack also dismissed the talk of old regime figures being to blame. The culprits for them are also ultraconservative Muslims.

Aimen, who wouldn’t give his family name for fear of Salafist retribution, said he believed there was “a hidden hand” behind the recent surge in Muslim extremism, arguing that “Saudi and Qatar are encouraging them through their preachers and through funding.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “they can exploit the lack of education here and the ignorance.”

The few activists at the rally to oppose what happened in Benghazi expressed their disappointment at the small turnout for the demonstration – only about 150 protested.

“I am here to express my condolences to the families of the Americans who died,” says Mohamed Asad Ellafy, a media coordinator for the Libyan youth NGO H2O. “It is a worry that the government is too weak to protect people and stop these attacks. This I hope would be a wake-up call. Libyans need to say loudly the guns have to be taken off the streets.”
 
Lingering resentment

But not everyone at the rally agreed with those sentiments.

A few in the crowd spoke less about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi than a movie that was said by many to have triggered the violence.
 
The movie, entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” appeared to insult the Prophet Mohammed and many Muslims considered it a clear provocation that deserved a response.
 
“The Americans insulted us and our Prophet,” said a bearded young man at the rally who gave his name as Abu Suleiman. “The movie was disgusting.”
 
One of the major differences between Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya is that in Egypt, pro-democracy groups can get their supporters out in large numbers to make their feelings known. In Libya, such groups do not have the weight of numbers and ordinary Libyans increasingly are too scared to protest against the militias and the Salafists.
 
Fowzi Omaar, an adviser to Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, who led a centrist alliance of groups to victory in the recent elections, said, “There is real disappointment that the young are not protesting on the streets at what has been going on in recent weeks. They should be out there every night to protect the revolution.”

The disappointment was written on the faces on those at Wednesday night’s rally.

“Most of our people are not extremists,” says 58-year-old Annaily al-Housh, a physician who says he was tortured for five days during the rebellion to unseat Gadhafi because of his opposition to the ousted dictator. “We want to be part of the world.”

VOA's Susan Yackee talks to Jamie Dettmer about his observations from Tripoli. Dettmer has been in and out of Libya for the past six months:
Libyans 'Shocked, Saddened' By US Ambassador's Death
Libyans 'Shocked, Saddened' By US Ambassador's Deathi
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Photo Gallery: Anti-US Protests in Middle East

  • Yemeni protestors break a door of the U.S. Embassy during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammed, Sana'a, Yemen, September 13, 2012.
  • Yemenis protest in front of the U.S. Embassy during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammed, Sana'a, September 13, 2012.
  • Egyptian protesters burn tires as they clash with riot police outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, September 13, 2012.
  • An Egyptian protester throws back a tear gas canister toward riot police outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, September 13, 2012.
  • A policeman stands in front of a police car set on fire by protesters in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, during clashes between protesters and police, September 13, 2012.
  • White House staff are pictured after they lowered the U.S. flag to half staff on the roof of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012, following the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
  • President Barack Obama delivers a statement with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012
  • A burnt car is parked at the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen, in Benghazi, Libya, September 12, 2012.
  • An exterior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi September 12, 2012.
  • An interior view of the damage at the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi, Libya, September 12, 2012.
  • Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed along with three of his staff on September 11, 2012 during a demonstration at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.  This photo was taken at his home in Tripoli, June 28, 2012.
  • A vehicle sits smoldering in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012.
  • An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, late on September 11, 2012.
  • U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in flames during protest, September 11, 2012

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kenny Lee from: Seoul
September 17, 2012 4:18 AM
Regarding saying about another coulture ro regilons, we alway should be always careful because all custom, culture and region have its uniqwness that has been acumulated for a long time.
Unfortunately, many people or nations seems no to respect other's in thesedays.


by: LeRoy Padmore from: Jersey City,NJ
September 14, 2012 4:14 AM
There are lot of videos that are circulating the internet about Muslim tearing down American flags and Israeli Flags,chanting death to america,death to Israel,death to the christian, making fun of Jesus Christ,you don't see the US or Israel nor Christian fighting or burning down buildings.we need to set an example to these people.we need to sent a message to the Muslim world.If you mess with us we are coming for you.the Obama administration policy towards Israel is detrimental to our way of life.The Obama policy has portray a weak image to the Muslim world.this administration needs to go.

Madam Clinton said the Muslim people are peaceful,there is nothing peaceful about them.it is almost the whole Muslim world demonstrating against America. and enough is enough.it is time that we sent a message to these disgruntled elements.it is time that we fire back like Israel.Mr Obama is not the man for the hour,he is not the man for the Job,The American people made an error by electing this man into office.He needs to go,enough of Mr.Obama.we need someone that love this country,that have this country at heart.we need to vote him out.God Bless America,God Bless the America People.

In Response

by: Albert Martinez from: Newport Beach
September 14, 2012 5:23 PM
Mr. Padmore - does the term free speech mean anything, or is it only allowed when it doesn't include anything negative about the US?
Thank whatever God - you wish to worship - that we currently have a president who doesn't " shoot first and aim later ". It's quite clear - to those who take the time to read/research - that we're still dealing with the mess left behind by your beloved W. As citizens of a free nation - it's time for discourse, not bombs.

May whatever God - you wish to worship - forgive us for our sins . It shouldn't take you more than 10 milliseconds to research the number of innocent lives taken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you honestly believe we're innocent of all wrong doing in the middle east ? That we're not held accountable for our actions ? That our actions in the middle east don't revolve around oil ? Do you honestly believe we can impose our principles/way of life through more useless killing?
It's time Mr. Padmore, for discourse not bombs.

In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 14, 2012 11:57 AM
And God bless LeRoy Padmore from: Jersey City,NJ for writing boldly proclaiming the truth. If US citizens are not tired of these threats but only show weakness from weak leaders, then who's going to save them? Americans need to stand up for their rights, and this is an opportunity to tell those who hate America to shut up. Who responds to these miscreants' insults to Christianity, chants of 'death to America', 'death to Israel', etc? What do these people want that America cannot afford for which USA has shown this spinelessness. Someone needs to correct this bad impression, and in time too.


by: Kent from: Kansas City Mo
September 14, 2012 1:50 AM
We need to stop all aid to immediately. We also need to sever cultural and educational ties. These cultures are not worth my tax payer dollars.


by: Sane F. from: Norfolk VA
September 14, 2012 1:38 AM
This attack and killings had nothing to do with a movie. This thing about this ridiculous movie of a parody of Mohammed was just a pretense to attempt to rationalize their violence, hate and inhumanity. This was planned deliberately to occur on 9/11, absolutely.

In Response

by: strange world
September 14, 2012 3:26 PM
these were my thoughts too....i feel like something else HAS to be going on that we are not being told (as per usual). especially after watching the trailer for that "film" and seeing what a ridiculous joke it was.


by: Sane F. from: Norfork VA
September 14, 2012 1:33 AM
No, you're right, they are idiots. And, they are not devout Muslims--this is geopolitical action by Muslim extremists. They use Islam as a tool for mayhem. They are indoctrinated with hate and ultraconservative views and use Islam to rationalize their violent actions and excitement in producing mayhem. This was a calculated attack to coincide with 9/11...whether or not security and intelligence experts say different--some of these experts are idiots too...These people are only interested in domination and establishing a theocracy in the countries of the Arab Spring movement. They are not interested in democracy. It's total manipulation by Islamic militants. They will smile in the face of the U.S. and others who can supply monetary support and then will stab them in the back. The U.S. ambassador they killed was a friend to Libya.


by: LeRoy Padmore from: Jersey City,NJ
September 14, 2012 12:34 AM
The sectarian violence that we are seeing across the middle east with America and Israel needs to stop.we have to do something about this situation,how long this will keep going on?this kind of fire that the Muslim are steering up,only fire can cut it off.the Muslim people are violent sect of people.according the koran sura 5:51.Sura 9:123 quote kill all the Christians and Jews,we have been talking about this for a very long time,now the truth has come out.when 911 happen all the muslim nation were rejoicing over our misfortune.these Muslim people are disgruntled kind of people.what kind of mess is going on about offending Muslim?when we killed Bin-laden,Mr.Obama said we could displayed the body for the American people to see, Because it will be offensive to the muslim,however look at what they did to our deplomat in Libya?displayed his body on the street,your stop this nonsense about offending people.these people dont care about the USA,their slogan is death to America,death to Israel,they meant what they are saying.why should we care about their feeling?God Bless America,God Bless the American people


by: Anonymous
September 13, 2012 5:31 PM
The Muslim people who supported the attack are idiots. Their contradicting themselves by acting the way that they do. They say the American's insulted their Prophet Mohammed when reality they did. Their actions represent who they are within. Killing the ambassador and other 3 Americas is nothing to them. So i hope they were insulted in the movie because ya damn deserve it. Instead of proving people wrong their simply proving that anything negative can be true. This probably wont be posted but i hope someone reads this.

In Response

by: Tammy from: Alabama,USA
September 14, 2012 4:12 PM
What the American people need to understand is these were the acts of Muslim extremists. The Libyan government is devout on finding these killers with the aid of the USA. These few do not represent the whole. You cannot clump all Muslims together. That is not fair or right. There are extremists in ALL religions. Christianity, Judaism, etc. All are included. We cannot let people starve for the acts of a few. Think about it.

In Response

by: Anonymous
September 14, 2012 1:31 AM
Attack the U.S. near 9/11 because a movie NOBODY heard about made you butthurt? Way to bite the hand that feeds you?

In Response

by: Anonymous
September 13, 2012 11:47 PM
Their are a few universal absolutes. Do not kill, do not steal, do not rape. Their are others but people will debate them till the end of time. Every person of any or no faith should agree on these. We can make excuses for them for a very long time but at what point do we say enough we are sorry that for some reason your reasoning is stuck in the dark ages but we have to look after our own interests now and not just except your backhanded apologies. In the words of a popular movie "to make terrorism so horrific that it becomes unthinkable to attack Americans" to retaliate with excessive force without pity or mercy.

All this being said i have been looking to see how many of the invaders of the consulate died i don't know much about their protocol but the consulate is considered U.S. soil and any attack on it is to be met with deadly force. For the invaders to make it into the consulate they must have had overwhelming force but still i can't imagine the stationed military not cutting down a good number of them.

In Response

by: nina
September 13, 2012 10:46 PM
understand that Muslims do NOT support these types of attacks...extremists do. They claim they are Muslim and that they are defending their profit however they also kill for their god. REAL Muslims don't even come close to supporting these actions.

In Response

by: Anonymous
September 13, 2012 10:22 PM
I agree, that those protesting against the Americans are indeed idiots. Neither the American Government nor the American people were even aware of the existence of the film. Indeed, if anything, the American people and values especially avoid religious intolerance because the country is diverse.

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