News / Middle East

    Obama Condemns Libya Attack That Killed US Ambassador

    President Barack Obama delivers a statement alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and others, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012
    President Barack Obama delivers a statement alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and others, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012
    President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on Tuesday. Obama also responded to criticism from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

    The White House said Obama spoke with the families of Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith, another embassy employee who was killed in Benghazi.

    In the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by his side, Obama said he ordered steps to enhance security for U.S. diplomats and personnel around the world.  

    The United States, he said, will not rest until those responsible for the killings are brought to justice.

    "We are working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats, and I have also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world.  And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama said.

    Watch a related report by VOA's Scott Stearns

    Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans were killed when a mob, angered by an amateur film that mocks Islam's Prophet Muhammad, stormed the U.S. consulate in Libya.

    In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, destroying an American flag and replacing it with an Islamic banner -- also in response to the film.  


    Stevens' death was the first of an American ambassador abroad in more than 20 years. The State Department identified Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith, as one of the others killed.

    Secretary Clinton spoke earlier at the State Department.
     
    "This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world. We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence and we send our prayers to the families, friends and colleagues of those we have lost," she said. "This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya."

    Q&A Paul Westpheling talks to VOA's Elizabeth Arrott and Scott Stearns on events in Libya
    Q&A Paul Westpheling talks to VOA's Elizabeth Arrott and Scott Stearns on events in Libyai
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    U.S. pledges justice

    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
    Clinton said the United States will continue to work with the government and people of Libya, but pledged to bring those responsible for the deaths to justice.
     
    Clinton said the relationship between the U.S. and Libya will not be "another casualty" of the attack, and the U.S. will not turn its back on the Libyan transition to a free and democratic nation.
     
    The president of Libya's national assembly, Mohammed Magarief, apologized Wednesday "to the United States, the people and to the whole world for what happened."  
     
    Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told reporters that an armed group attacked the premises in an "almost suicidal" mission. He said the U.S. consulate was at "fault" for not taking adequate precautions. But further details of the incident were unclear.
     
    Earlier reports said several dozen gunmen from the Islamist group Ansar al Sharia attacked the U.S. consulate with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, then set it on fire. The Associated Press reported that Stevens and his colleagues were killed when he went to the consulate to evacuate staff.
     
    In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, tore up an American flag and replaced it with an Islamic banner. The demonstrators there — mainly ultraconservative Islamists — continued their protest action through the early hours of Wednesday.
     
    The protests coincided with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

    In US, attack resonates on campaign trail
    The Libya attack and an assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo have entered the U.S. presidential contest between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
     
    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 12, 2012.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 12, 2012.
    x
    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 12, 2012.
    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his campaign headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 12, 2012.
    Romney says a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo appeared to sympathize with attacks protesting the film.
     
    At a news conference, Romney criticized the Obama administration.
     
    "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration — and the embassy is the administration — was a statement which is akin to apology, and I think was a severe miscalculation," he said.
     
    The Obama campaign issued a statement saying it was shocked that Romney would choose a time when the United States is confronting the tragic death of one of its diplomats "to launch a political attack."
     
    In a CBS News interview late Wednesday, President Obama defended the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, saying it was intended to calm a situation that potentially placed Americans in danger.  He criticized what he called Romney's "tendency to shoot first and aim later."  As president, Obama added, he has learned the importance of making sure statements are thought through and backed up by facts.

    President Obama said that the United States "rejects all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," and said "there is absolutely no justification" for senseless violence."

    President Obama visited employees at the State Department to express his solidarity with them following the deaths of the American personnel in Libya.

    The White House has not commented on media reports quoting unidentified officials as saying the attack in Libya was planned and not spontaneous.

    The White House says President Obama is monitoring the situation in Libya and in Egypt as he begins a two-day campaign trip.  The president ordered all U.S. flags lowered to half-staff in memory of those killed in Benghazi.

    Film outrage
     
    Clips from the movie in English and Arabic recently posted on YouTube show the Prophet Muhammad as a child of undetermined parentage and portray him as a buffoon who advocates child abuse and extramarital sex, among other overtly insulting claims.
     
    The Associated Press reported that alleged filmmaker, Sam Bacile, is a California-based real estate developer who went into hiding Tuesday. The AP quotes him as describing Islam as a "cancer," and said he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
     
    The video gained international attention with its promotion by controversial Florida-based Christian Pastor Terry Jones, who said Tuesday the film was not designed to attack Muslims but to show the "destructive ideology of Islam."
     
    Jones triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 by threatening to set fire to copies of the Quran and then burning one in his church.
     
    Tuesday's twin assaults were the first on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak in uprisings last year.
     
    Coordination unclear
     
    It is not clear if the two incidents were coordinated.
     
    Benghazi, a stronghold of Islamist extremists and cradle of the revolution that saw strongman Gadhafi captured and killed last year, has seen a wave of violence in recent months, including attacks on Western targets, bombings of military buildings and the killings of army and security officers.
     
    Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper reported that a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Egyptian Islamist group, urged the U.S. government to prosecute the "madmen" behind the video.
     
    • 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

    Also Tuesday, Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque condemned a symbolic "trial" of the Prophet Muhammad organized by a U.S. group, including Jones.
     
    At least 2,000 unarmed demonstrators had gathered Tuesday outside the embassy in the Egyptian capital, including Salafist Muslims and soccer fans who were involved in the political protests that brought down the former government.


    By nightfall, a group of protesters had breached the wall, destroying the U.S. flag and replacing it with an Islamic banner. An embassy official said no guns were drawn and no shots were fired during the incident. He said all the employees on the compound were safe.

    VOA's Middle East Voices is tracking worldwide reaction to events in Libya here.

    VOA correspondents Mark Snowiss and Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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    by: Malek Towghi, Ph.D. from: USA
    September 12, 2012 7:03 PM
    Mr. President, We will see how and when will you bring to justice the Libyan killers of some of our best. The real issue, however, is how firmly, immediately and tangibly you will deal with our so-called ally and beneficiary of our largesse, Egypt, particularly after President Morsy's disappointing statement on what is happening to our embassy in Cairo. President Obama, If you don't want to confront the fate of Jimmy Carter in the November 2012 elections and thus embarrass your American well-wishers like myself, please do the following NOW: Close the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C. asking its personnel to leave within 48 hours; recall our heroic diplomats and support staff from Egypt as a protest; and issue a statement saying that the totality of relations between the US and Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis requires revaluation & reconsideration. The same statement should assert firmly that no US government can deprive its citizens of their right to freedom of thought and speech given by God and the US Constitution.
    In Response

    by: Jack from: USA
    September 14, 2012 4:02 PM
    I wholeheartedly agree. There is no other acceptable response from both the President and the American people for such an act as this.

    by: Peter Dow from: Aberdeen, Scotland
    September 12, 2012 6:18 PM

    I am shocked and horrified at this and my sincere condolences to our American friends and loved ones.

    This incident confirms my concerns that diplomatic missions in "war-on-terror" countries are not being properly secured by being located in a properly secured and defended military bases.

    This reminds me of the storming of a UN base in Mazar-e-Sharif when 7 UN workers were killed in April 2011. The guy responsible at the time for UN security - Gregory B. Starr, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, is an American who used to be employed as the person responsible for the security of US diplomatic bases.

    I have further concerns that the US & NATO countries' military these days lack the military knowledge and competence even to able to secure our military bases. Bases can't be properly secured in or near an urban area. You need a security zone of cleared and controlled ground of at least 6 miles, but 10 miles is better, around a military base to keep enemy fire from rockets and mortars out of range.

    If you don't control the ground around a base this happens - 3 were killed at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan yesterday.

    We've been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 11 years now and still the US and NATO military are operating out of insecure bases! Our supply routes in Afghanistan have never been secured and recently a decision by NATO-ISAF (commanded by a US general) was taken to close bases along the main highways in Afghanistan making the roads even more insecure.

    The military and security leaders we are depending on to keep our personnel safe during this war on terror are incompetent and our diplomats would be well advised to have no faith in them. If I was a diplomat in a country with security problems I would quit and come home until we get proper military and security people in charge.

    So there is a pattern here of incompetence at the very highest levels of leadership in the United States, NATO and the United Nations.

    The people in charge are incompetent and this is very serious folks. We need urgent action to get competent people in post. We need a shake up at the highest levels of government on the military and security side especially. This can't be allowed to go on.


    by: Anonymous
    September 12, 2012 5:58 PM
    Another thing that US can do is it support the "Reformists" in the middle east, and not the revolutionaries and not the dictators. That could also be a help.

    by: Anonymous
    September 12, 2012 5:50 PM
    US biggest mistake is removing secular dictators in Middle East. US started this process in 1979 with Iran, asking Shah to be kinder to fundamentalist, now after 3 decades, Iranians are of course want to get rid of the fundamentalist, but then you help hardline Muslims to remove their secular dictators! Another problem of US is supporting radical ethnic racial groups in the Middle East.

    by: Jonathan huang from: canada
    September 12, 2012 5:45 PM
    Karma! you reap what you sow!
    Good job free speech!
    I believe one day, same thing will happen in Syria after Bashal is toppled.
    remember my words!

    by: George from: U.S.A. Ky
    September 12, 2012 4:30 PM
    I have an Idea. Find the guy that made the film and send him to Libiya. Along with the pastor who threatened to burn the Koran. That way they can face the consequences of their own actions instead of other people dying for it. While we have the right to speak freely, I believe that if you express an opinion that you know will provoke violence, You should be the one to face those you have provoked. While the folks who attacked the embassy should be held responsible for the murders they have committed, Those who knowingly provoked this violence should also be held accountable. And please, Don't try to tell me they could not have known what the outcome would be.
    In Response

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    September 13, 2012 7:29 AM
    Your idea is stupidly naive. Someone says these fools are going to react this way and they did exactly so, does it not prove to you that some people live in kingdom of fools? If there was a god in islam... the people there would have become wiser.
    In Response

    by: George from: U.S.A. KY
    September 12, 2012 11:57 PM
    Hey Mike?
    Thank you for exercising your freedom of speech. Please don't take this the wrong way, but before you go calling folks ignorant, I would suggest you learn how to type your country's initials properly.
    In Response

    by: Mike from: US
    September 12, 2012 7:38 PM
    Your idea is incredibly ignorant.

    by: nik from: US
    September 12, 2012 4:02 PM
    The movie has only 1 motive and that is to propagate hate. this is not much different then how Nazi's approached the jews 70 years ago. was that free speech. no, it is hate speech. everyone supporting the movie is part of the sick hate movement.
    In Response

    by: George again. from: same loacation.
    September 13, 2012 12:15 AM
    I gotta say nik, hate may not have been the motive behind this movie. The point of my post was that those responsible for its creation and release should in some way be held accountable for the consequences of that release, given the well known proclivities of extremists within that religion. Every religion has extremists and there is not a religion in world that has not had blood spilled in its name and perceived itself threatened by any other belief system. And if there are those that haven't yet, its only a matter of time.

    by: Marc from: 48135
    September 12, 2012 3:48 PM
    Citizens that don't support America are traitors...

    by: Black Knight
    September 12, 2012 1:53 PM
    Too late to talk about justice,now that this tragedy has happened.
    Bringing those responsible to Justice does not bring back the fallen, rather avert a similar repetition elsewhere, is the smart option. They were outnumbered and by accounts, outgunned, a ironic tragedy.
    In Response

    by: J. Porter from: USA
    September 12, 2012 4:15 PM
    Spell i-n-c-i-t-e...to urge to action or rouse...I believe the subject of the film that was shown is just as responsible as those who carried out these heinous acts of violence. Being them to justice as well. This film was the petroleum which was poured on an already smoldering fire.

    by: Libyan from: USA
    September 12, 2012 11:46 AM
    What a tragic loss. I sincerely express my deep condolanse to the American people and to the families of the victims.
    Those are not only Amircan heros but also Libyan heros.
    Thanks Stevens for what you gave Libya .
    In Response

    by: Tedla Asfaw from: New York
    September 12, 2012 2:21 PM
    On the 11th anniversary of 9/11 we had American Embassy attack in Benghazi a city which is liberated by Western bombing of Qaddafi. Osama Bin Laden was our baby in the cold war so did the "freedom fighters" who tortured and killed Qaddafi. After 11 years the West will join the war against Benghazi Talibans if Obama walks the talk.
    Comments page of 3
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