WASHINGTON (AP/CBS/CNN) Sources are telling CNN that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens was planned by attackers who used the protest outside the consulate as a diversion.
The sources could not say whether the attackers instigated the protest or merely took advantage of it, and they say they don't believe Stevens was specifically targeted.
Stevens and three other Americans suffocated while trying to escape a fire after a grenade was thrown into the building, a senior U.S. official said.
London terror analysts speculated that Stevens was the victim of a targeted al Qaeda revenge attack. The assault "came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago," the analysts said.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens," President Obama said in a written statement released Wednesday morning.
President Obama said he had ordered heightened security at all U.S. diplomatic offices around the world in the wake of the attack in Benghazi and a similar but less violent incident in Cairo on Tuesday. Both incidents were sparked by hardline Muslims protesting a film made in the U.S. which insults the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Military officials told CBS News an anti-terrorism team of U.S. Marines was being deployed to Libya to help secure U.S. interests in the country following the attack. The State Department said, however, that no Americans were remaining at the facility in Benghazi. State officials would not confirm how many Americans were evacuated, or to where.
Wanis al-Sharef, a Libyan Interior Ministry official in Benghazi, said the four Americans were killed when the angry mob, which gathered to protest a U.S.-made film that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad, fired guns and burned down the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. He said Stevens, 52, and other officials were moved to a second building - deemed safer - after the initial wave of protests at the consulate compound.
According to al-Sharef, members of the Libyan security team seem to have indicated to the protesters the building to which the American officials had been relocated, and that building then came under attack.
Stevens, 52, was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979. A Libyan doctor who says he treated Stevens told the Associated Press Wednesday that the diplomat died of severe asphyxiation and that he tried for 90 minutes to revive him. Ziad Abu Zeid said Stevens was brought to the Benghazi Medical Center by Libyans Tuesday night with no other Americans, and that initially no one realized he was the ambassador. Abu Zeid said Stevens had "severe asphyxia," apparently from smoke inhalation, causing stomach bleeding, but had no other injuries.
Protests erupted on Tuesday over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Steven's State Department biography, posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy to Libya, says Stevens "considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya."
Stevens joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and spent time in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. He was a career diplomat who spoke Arabic and French and had already served two tours in Libya. He wrote several confidential cables back to Washington, describing Moammar Gadhafi's bizarre behavior. Stevens was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate earlier this year
Libya's interim president has apologized to the United States for the attack. Mohammed el-Megarif described the attack as "cowardly" and offered his condolences on the death of Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans. Speaking to reporters, he vowed to bring the culprits to justice and maintain his country's close relations with the United States. "We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world," el-Megarif said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli filmmaker behind the film went into hiding Tuesday. Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam's flaws to the world. "Islam is a cancer, period," he repeatedly said in a solemn, accented tone.
The two-hour movie, "Innocence of Muslims," cost $5 million to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors, said Bacile, who wrote and directed it. The film claims Muhammad was a fraud.
An English-language 13-minute trailer on YouTube shows an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults disguised as revelations about Muhammad, whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons. It depicts Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other overtly insulting claims that have caused outrage.
Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any manner, let alone insult the prophet. A Danish newspaper's 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet triggered riots in many Muslim countries. Bacile was apologetic about the attacks, but blamed lax embassy security and the perpetrators of the violence. "I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good," said Bacile. "America should do something to change it."
The film was dubbed into Egyptian Arabic by someone Bacile doesn't know, but he speaks enough Arabic to confirm that the translation is accurate. It was made in three months in the summer of 2011, with 59 actors and about 45 people behind the camera. The full film has been shown once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year, said Bacile.
Late this afternoon, the Islamic Center of Cincinnati released a statement which reads: "Although the details of the despicable attack on American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi are still emerging, we at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati wish to express our outrage and disgust at this cowardly action which resulted in the killing of our ambassador to Libya, as well as three other personnel. Ambassador Chris Stevens was a brave diplomat who truly was a friend of Libya and his death is not only a great loss to the United States, but to the Libyan people as well. As the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated, the attack was the work of a small savage group, not the people or the government of Libya. We're hopeful that this will not affect the US relationship with Libya, which is in the very early stages of developing a democratic government and deserves our support. We cannot take a chance on allowing Libya to descend into chaos so soon after having helped the Libyans rid themselves of Qaddafi's despotic rule.
The attack on the US embassy in Cairo also needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. Egypt, like Libya, is going through a period of transition and it is no surprise that the fringe extremist elements in the two countries would try to take advantage of any opportunity to incite violence and hatred towards the United States. We need to be vigilant at home and abroad not to provide any opportunity or material to these fringe groups that they could exploit for their nefarious purposes. Freedom of speech and expression of opinions is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution, and we certainly need to uphold that right. However, deliberate attempts to incite hatred towards any particular religion is not only unAmerican but also runs contrary to our own interests worldwide. The United States has a long history of acceptance of differing faiths, and we need to forcefully project that image abroad.
In Libya and Cairo, the groups responsible for the attacks claim to be reacting to an online film trailer considered offensive to Muslims.
Speaking on behalf of American Muslims, we would like to state that Islam does not condone any such reaction. On the contrary, it considers it a great desecration of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and the Quran to attack and kill innocent people. We need to remember that the Prophet himself was ridiculed, insulted, and abused for thirteen years while living in Mecca and reacted to these provocations by praying for those that were persecuting him, to be guided by God towards the path of righteousness. He always kept in mind and abided by the Quranic injunction, "And disagree with them in the most courteous way."
We as Muslims have an obligation and responsibility to teach others about our Prophet by disseminating information about his noble qualities and high moral standards. Any reaction of violence runs contrary to the core teachings of Islam.
We would also like to express our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of our diplomats who were victims of the horrific attacks in Benghazi."
Inayat Malik MD, President Islamic Educational Council, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati
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