The US Ambassador to Libya and three other diplomatic staff have been killed after an attack on the US mission in the east Libyan city of Benghazi, according to statements from Libyan officials.
Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, was reportedly killed after attempting to rescue colleagues from the US Consulate as it was attacked late last night by a well-armed group of Islamists, who burned cars and buildings after battle with Libyan security forces.
“The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them," an official in Benghazi told Reuters.
An unverified picture is being circulated on Twitter that purports to show Stevens, 52, stripped and carried by members of Ansar al-Sharia. He is thought to have died of smoke inhalation after the US Consulate came under an RPG attack.
There are also unconfirmed reports that two US Marines who arrived at the consulate shortly after the death of were also shot and killed.
According to the Associated Press, Stevens had served two previous tours in Libya, and ran the US office in Benghazi during the revolt against Gadhafi which was greatly assisted by NATO forces and foreign assistance on the ground.
“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,” US President Barak Obama said in an official statement. “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.”
Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister told journalists that 18 other Americans have been injured in the attack. Libyan President Mohammed Yussef Magariaf has promised to better coordinate security for Americans in the country.
The mob claimed to have been motivated by a bizarre and cheaply-made movie, published on YouTube and first screened in 2011, which portrays the Prophet Mohammed in a way that is deeply offensive to Muslims.
The obscure movie was discovered broadcast by a Salafist TV station in an apparent attempt to stir up a violent response, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Violent protests and attacks have also taken place in Cairo. Protesters in at the U.S. embassy compound scaled the walls and pulled down the American flag, replacing it with a black flag.
Libya has rapidly restored pre-war levels of oil production, but the country’s political, security and physical infrastructure has not kept pace.
The attack on the US Consulate has been presaged with attacks on Libya’s Ministry of Justice and Intelligence Agency.
A provision government has struggled to enforce law and order over the vast country, where the war to overthrown Gaddafi has left several militias with huge arms caches which the government has not been able to collect.
At the time of writing, protestors are gathering waving black banners outside the US Embassy in Tunisia, after calls from Salafist groups to stage protests there.