Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Clinton: Libya Attack Should Shock Conscience of All Faiths

Amb. Christopher Stevens
by Mark Snowiss, Carla Babb September 12, 2012

The United States ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff were killed after a mob angered over an amateur American-made short film that mocks Islam's Prophet Muhammad stormed the U.S. consulate in the eastern city Benghazi late Tuesday.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a 21-year career U.S. Foreign Service officer and one of the most experienced U.S. envoys in the region, had taken up his post in the capital, Tripoli, in May.

His death was the first of an American envoy abroad in more than 20 years. The U.S. State Department reported that U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith, was also killed. It did not identify the two other victims.

​​U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday condemned the killing of the four Americans.

"They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives," President Obama said in a statement.

Obama described Stevens as a "courageous and exemplary representative of the United States" who had selflessly carried out his duties throughout the Libyan revolution.

Stevens was widely admired by the Libyan rebels for his support of their uprising that overthrew longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Stevens "risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation."

Clinton said in an address at the State Department Wednesday, "we have new heroes to honor" and mourn.

She said Stevens "risked his life to stop a tyrant," referring to Gadhafi, and then gave his life to build a better Libya.

U.S. pledges justice

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.

Film outrage

The mobs were sparked by outrage over the film that U.S. media said was produced by Israeli-American Sam Bacile and financed by expatriate members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority group. Coptic leaders from around the world denounced the film.

​​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 Bacile — a real estate developer in California — went into hiding Tuesday. He described 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.

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 told VOA no guns were drawn and no shots were fired during the incident. He said all the employees on the compound were safe.


Credit: Voice of America

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