The United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, the center of the protests that overthrew former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Tuesday night as armed protesters attacked the U.S. Consulate.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three security guards were killed as the gunmen, many apparently armed with machine guns, set fire to the Consulate and shot at those trying to flee to a nearby safe house, Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said. U.S. commandos arrived at the safe house to evacuate them from the house, but not before Stevens and the others were killed.
The Associated Press reports that the Libyan doctor who treated Stevens said he died of asphyxiation from smoke.
“We tried to revive him for an hour and a half, but with no success,” Dr. Ziad Abu Zeid told the AP.
Stevens is the first American ambassador to die on duty since 1979.
The attacks follow another violent protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, where protesters took offense over a low-budget film promoted by an American pastor that condemns Islam and mocks the prophet Mohammad.
While the Cairo attacks appear to have been spontaneous, officials in the Obama administration believe the Benghazi attacks were planned, according to the New York Times. The use of rocket-propelled grenades and mortars indicate a terrorist group may have been behind the attacks. Officials believe the protests in the region may have been used as a cover for the attack.
Defense Department officials announced two Marine antiterrorism security teams were sent to Libya for security reinforcements.
President Barack Obama condemned the attacks from the Rose Garden at the White House Wednesday morning.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack,” Obama said. “We are working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats and I have also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
“It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi, because it is a city he fought to save,” Obama said, referencing his work aiding Libyan rebels looking to over throw the Gaddafi regime.
The president ordered American flags be flown at half-staff until Sunday in honor of the four Americans.
Seven U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Africa, including those in Egypt and Sudan, ordered all Americans in the area to be especially vigilant and warned of possible attacks in the near future.