The US ambassador to Libya and three American members of his staff were killed in the attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protestors angry over a film that ridiculed Prophet Muhammad, Libyan officials said on Wednesday.
They said Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed late on Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by mob guns and rocket propelled grenades.
A furious mob fired gunshots and then set the building alight as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the facility. Witnesses reported militants firing rocket-propelled grenades from a nearby farmhouse.
The situation rapidly deteriorated as the army tried to cordon off the area around the building and fought running battles with the attackers. But the crowd overwhelmed the facility, looting the contents.
“I heard nearly 10 explosions and all kinds of weapons. It was a terrifying day,” said a witness . The attack on the Benghazi consulate took place as hundreds of protestors in neighbouring Egypt scaled the walls of the US Embassy in Cairo and tore down and replaced the American flag with a black Islamic banner.
The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad showing him as as a fraud, a womaniser and a madman, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
It was made by Sam Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew. He said he had produced, directed and written the two-hour film.
Stevens (52), was a career diplomat who spoke Arabic and French and had already served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt against Moammer Gaddafi.
He was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate earlier this year. A Libyan doctor who treated Stevens said he died of severe asphyxiation, apparently from smoke. Stevens was practically dead when he arrived at the hospital but “we tried to revive him for an hour and a half but with no success,” said hospital doctor Abu Zeid .
Before Tuesday, five US ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty, the last being Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979, according to the State Department historian’s office.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Algiers is warning Americans in the country to avoid non-essential travel amid calls for protests after the deadly attack in Libya.
Protestors pull down US flag
More than a dozen Egyptian protestors, angry over what they called an anti-Muslim video, scaled the outer wall of the fortress-like US Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and took down an American flag. In its place, they raised a black flag that read: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet" before Egyptian security forces sought to tame the crowd.