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US Ambassador, 3 Others Killed in Mob Attack in Libya Over California-Produced Film

US Ambassador, 3 Others Killed in Mob Attack in Libya Over California-Produced Film

by Karen Ocamb on September 12, 2012

UPDATE 10:40am Pacific: The New York Times is reporting that US officials suspect the Libyan attack may have been planned with the attackers either waiting for an opportunity to exploit such as a protest over the video or they may have organized the protest to cover the attack. 

MSNBC News is reporting that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens  and three other Americans were killed Tuesday night, Sept. 11, after an angry mob stormed the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to protest a film that ridicules Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Stevens – who hailed from Northern California – and a group of embassy employees where trying to evacuate staff when they were killed.

NBC’s Richard Engel reports that protesters also outraged by the film “scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and tore and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner.” Both Libya and Egypt have been in turmoil struggling to find their footing after uprising last year ended the dictatorships of Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak, respectively.

President Obama said in a statement (see full statement below):

I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. 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.

The anti-Islamic film was produced by an Israeli filmmaker living in California, MSNBC reports, and “was being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim, Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States.” The 14-minute trailer, posted on YouTube in both English and Egyptian Arabic, “depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.”

MSNBC reports:

Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew and who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, called “Innocence of Muslims,” said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.  

Speaking by phone to the AP from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant, saying Islam is “a cancer” and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.

Bacile said the film was produced in English and he does not know who dubbed it in Arabic. The full film has been shown once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year, he said.

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the United States known for his anti-Islam views, told the AP from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.

For several days, Egyptian media have been reporting on the video, playing some excerpts from it and blaming Sadek for it, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.

Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way. The 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

President Obama issued this statement:

I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. 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.

I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.

On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.

The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.

The incident quickly became political. The first US response came from the US Embassy in Cairo, which issued a statement saying it condemned “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions….Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

However, the Obama administration later told Politico it disavowed the statement, saying it “was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.”

Nonetheless, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney expressed outrage: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” MSNBC reports.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt responded: “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement condemning the attacks “in the strongest terms,” saying she is “heartbroken by this terrible loss” of Ambassador Stevens  and noted that Mohamed al-Magariaf, president of Libya’s National Congress, had “expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.”

Clinton also said:

“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet….The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Sarah Palin also weighed in on her Facebook pagejoking about the administration’s response to the killings and protest  by saying “apparently President Obama can’t see Egypt and Libya from his house” and asking him, “How’s that Arab Spring working out for us now?….It’s about time our president stood up for America and condemned these Islamic extremists.”

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has more on Ambassador Stevens:

After the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya this morning, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior Member of the House Intelligence Committee, issued the following statement:

“I was deeply saddened and disturbed to learn of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans. Ambassador Stephens was a well-known figure in Libya, and was deeply involved in helping the Libyan people in their transition from the Qaddafi dictatorship.

“I have had the privilege of meeting many of our diplomats and USAID professionals overseas and I have always been struck by their dedication and their willingness to take risks in pursuit of a better world. They are America’s first line of defense and today’s loss should serve as a reminder to all Americans of the risks that our diplomats and foreign assistance officers encounter every day.”

Unlike the responses from other Republican politicos, openly gay Massachusetts Congressional candidate Richard Tisei (who is endorsed by the Victory Fund) issued a statement expressing his sadness and outrage over the attacks without also attacking the Obama administration:

“The images from the consulate attack in Benghazi and the attack on our embassy in Cairo are deeply troubling.  To begin with, I’m profoundly saddened by the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, who were murdered in Libya yesterday.  Those Americans were ambassadors of peace for our country and what happened to them was horribly wrong.  Progress in those countries cannot occur if this sort of violence against our people is not stopped.  Egypt and Libya have obligations to protect American embassy and consular officials from violence and intimidation, just as we always protect their embassies and embassy personnel here in America. They must take those obligations with the utmost seriousness if we’re to keep diplomatic personnel in their countries, as we should.

My heart goes out to the families of those who were killed yesterday.  Their mission was to promote peaceful transitions to democracy and now they’ve paid the ultimate price.  They and their families will be in my prayers.

America must constantly examine the prudence and wisdom of our foreign policies as we promote peace and liberty around the world.  We have an obligation to ensure the safety of those who serve, whether in diplomatic or military posts.  Their lives must be valued and protected with every tool that we have at our disposal.”

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