The American ambassador to Libya has been named as the official killed when security forces and civilians clashed at the US consulate in Benghazi overnight. The attack has been condemned by the United States.
The Libyan Interior Ministry confirmed Wednesday that the US ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, had been killed in a mob attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
"The ambassador was killed along with three other officials," said Wanis al-Sharif, the Libya's deputy minister of the interior. Stevens' death was also confirmed on Twitter by Mustafa Abu Shagur, the Libyan deputy prime minister.
The attack at the US consulate took place on Tuesday night, with some local reports suggesting the building had come under fire from rocket propelled grenade.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not name the ambassador as a victim in the attack when she issued a statement confirming that a State Department official had been killed. Clinton did, however, express grief at the tragedy: "we are heartbroken by this terrible loss," she said.
Benghazi evolved into a rebel stronghold during last year's Libyan uprising against leader Moammar Gadhafi; the country's second city was the temporary base of the Libya's alternative government at the conflict's peak. The region has remained restless, even since Gadhafi was ousted.
Cairo embassy also stormed
The attacks in Benghazi were similar to events in Cairo earlier on Tuesday, when angry demonstrators stormed the US embassy, briefly scaling the perimeter walls. They replaced the US flag with their own.
"In Cairo, we can confirm that Egyptian police have now removed the demonstrators who had entered our embassy grounds earlier today," Nuland of the US State Department said of these demonstrations.
Private 'political' production
Preliminary reports on Tuesday attributed the protests to a film that was said to be insulting towards the Muslim prophet Muhammad. There were broad discrepancies in early reports on the film's origins and various patrons.
The Wall Street Journal reported late on Tuesday that the film was called "Innocence of Muslims." The major US paper said it was directed and produced last year by Sam Bacile, a 52-year-old Israeli-American real-estate developer operating in California. Bacile told the paper that he made it last year after raising money primarily from Jewish donors.
"Islam is a cancer," Bacile told the Wall Street Jounal, saying he wanted to use the film to show his view of Islam as a hateful religion. "This movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie."
As well as purporting to show Muhammad in the flesh, which in itself is forbidden in Islam, the film also questions whether Muhammad was born within wedlock and suggests homosexual and womanizing tendencies.
The film garnered support from controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has repeatedly threatened to publicly burn copies of the Koran. Jones had said he would show a 13-minute clip of the film at his church in Gainesville, Florida on Tuesday to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US.
sej/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)