US ambassador to Libya, 3 staff killed in attack
Tripoli, September 12, 2012
The US ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on Tuesday in the Libyan city of Benghazi, a Libyan official said.
It was not clear if the ambassador was in his car or the Libyan consulate when the attack occurred.
"The US ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them," the official in Benghazi told Reuters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, earlier in a statement, had confirmed the death of the US diplomat, who was not identified, and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate, after a day of mayhem in Libya and Egypt that raised fresh questions about Washington's relations with the Arab world.
The violence in Benghazi followed protests in neighbouring Egypt where protesters scaled the walls of the Cairo embassy and tore down the American flag and burned it during protests over what demonstrators said was a US film that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
On Tuesday, Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and seat of Sunni learning condemned a symbolic "trial" of the Prophet organized by a US group including Terry Jones, a Christian pastor who triggered riots in Afghanistan in 2010 by threatening to burn the Koran.
But it was not immediately clear whether it was the event sponsored by Jones, or another, possibly related, anti-Islam production, that prompted the melee at the US Embassy in Egypt, and possibly the violence in Libya.
Whatever the cause, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties with Arab dictators who could be counted on to muzzle dissent.
In Libya, gunmen in Benghazi attacked the US diplomatic compound, clashing with Libyan security forces, officials said.
Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr, spokesman for Libya's Supreme Security Committee, said, "There is a connection between this attack and the protests that have been happening in Cairo."
But a US official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had no reason to believe the two incidents were linked.
Unknown gunmen were shooting at the buildings, while others threw handmade bombs into the compound, setting off small explosions. Small fires were burning around the compound.
Passersby entered the unsecured compound to take pictures with their mobile phones and watch the looting.
No security forces could be seen around the consulate and a previous blockade of the road leading to it had been dismantled.
"The Libyan security forces came under heavy fire and we were not prepared for the intensity of the attack," Hurr said.
Libya's interim government has struggled to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups that have refused to lay down their weapons and often take the law into their own hands.
A number of security violations have rocked Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city and the cradle of last year's revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. - Reuters