The American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed when a mob of protesters and gunmen overwhelmed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, setting fire to it in outrage over a film that ridicules Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Libya’s new president apologized Wednesday for the attack, which underlined the lawlessness plaguing a region trying to recover from months of upheaval.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as a crowd of hundreds attacked the consulate Tuesday evening, many of them firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
By the end of the assault, much of the building was burned out and trashed.
A Libyan doctor who treated Stevens said he died of severe asphyxiation, apparently from smoke. In a sign of the chaos of during the attack, Stevens was brought alone by Libyans to the Benghazi Medical Center with no other Americans, and no one at the facility knew who he was, the doctor, Ziad Abu Zeid, told The Associated Press.
Stevens was practically dead when he arrived close to 1 a.m. on Wednesday, but “we tried to revive him for an hour and a half but with no success,” Abu Zeid said. The ambassador had bleeding in his stomach because of the asphyxiation but no other injuries, he said.
Ambassador Stevens grew up in California, graduated from Berkeley and worked in North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. He taught English in Morocco before joining the foreign service where he worked in the Middle East and North Africa.
Stevens 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 Gadhafi. He was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate earlier this year.
Before Tuesday, five U.S. 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.
According to the CNN report, “attackers used the protest outside the consulate as a diversion,” though sources “could not say whether the attacker instigated the protest or merely took advantage of it.”
The attack in Libya came hours after Egyptian protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and temporarily replacing it with a black Islamic banner.