U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens killed in consulate attack in Benghazi

ABC News reports: U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed when Libyan militants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Tuesday night.

Stevens, 52, died as 20 gun-wielding attackers descended on the U.S. consulate, angry about an American-made movie that depicted Prophet Mohammad, the founding prophet of Islam, as a fraud and a womanizer. The attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate, Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told a news conference in Benghazi.

Nearly a dozen Americans were inside the consulate at the time, guarded only by Libyan security. For nearly 20 minutes the Libyan guards exchanged fire with the attackers, who hurled a firebomb inside.

The militants burned down at least one building in the attack. It’s not clear whether Stevens was killed by smoke inhalation or was in a car, which may have been hit by a mortar, as he tried to escape.

Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith died from smoke inhalation during the attack.

The Libya Herald reports: There are conflicting accounts of what happened in Benghazi. One of the demonstrators told the Libya Herald that the protest was entirely peaceful until the police and local security forces tried to end it by firing into the air. That angered the protestors who then turned on the police, the demonstrator claimed. One of them, he said, then went to his car, got out a rocket propelled grenade launcher and fired at a police vehicle. However, he missed and the RPG hit the building on Venezia Street instead.

Other witnesses give a very different account. One, a Benghazi bank official who did not want to be named, told the Libya Herald that the protestors were all Salafists who had turned up to the building intent on causing maximum damage, bringing guns and RPGs with them. He claimed members of the Islamist militia Ansar Al-Sharia were among them. He said that fierce clashes between them and security forces lasted for five hours. He confirmed that the protestors had entered into the building.

According to him, the police guarding the office had allowed the protestors into the consulate. They then forced those inside to leave before trying to set the building on fire.

The Guardian reports: One witness told the Guardian on Wednesday that a mob fired at least one rocket at the US consulate building in Benghazi and then stormed it, setting everything ablaze. “I was there about an hour ago. The place (US consulate) is totally destroyed, the whole building is on fire,” said Mohammed El Kish, a former press officer with the National Transitional Council, which handed power to an elected parliament last month. He added: “They stole a lot of things.”

Kish, who is from Benghazi, blamed the attack on hardline jihadists. He said locals in Benghazi were upset by the activities of Islamist groups and would revolt against them. He also said the US consulate was not well protected, unlike the fortified US embassy in the capital, Tripoli. “It wasn’t that much heavily guarded. In Tripoli the embassy is heavily guarded.”

The ambassador’s killing follows an attack in June on the UK ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith. Two British bodyguards were injured after a rocket was fired at Asquith’s convoy in Benghazi, hitting his security escort. There have been similar attacks in Benghazi on the Red Cross and the UN. It is not clear why the US ambassador had returned to Benghazi at a time of security concerns.

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