US Ambassador Christopher Stevens Dies in Attack on Benghazi Consulate

The US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed earlier today in an attack on the Consulate in Benghazi.

An armed mob attacked and set fire to the building in a protest against an amateur film deemed offensive to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, after similar protests in Egypt’s capital.

The ambassador was paying a short visit to Benghazi when the consulate came under attack on Tuesday night, Al Jazeera’s Suleiman El-Dressi reported from the eastern Libyan city.

He died of suffocation during the attack, along with two US security personnel who were accompanying him, security sources told Al Jazeera. Another consulate employee, whose nationality could not immediately be confirmed, was also killed.

Earlier in the attack, there was another Consular employee killed.

And in our Embassy in Cairo, protestors pulled down the American flag and replaced it with an Islamic one–reportedly an al Qaeda one. There were reports that Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brother was involved in the Egyptian attack.

Note that Stevens was also the liaison with the Libyan National Transitional Council. This man helped Libya overthrow Moammar Qaddafi. Already, there have been a lot of condemnations of the killing from Libyans and other Arabs.

Details about both attacks are still coming out, and State is trying to play down the degree to which Salafists were involved in both. I’ll be curious to learn whether the mob had reason to know Stevens was at the Consulate when they attacked.

Condolences to Stevens’ family and the families of all of those killed in these attacks.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

46 replies
  1. RetiredPatriot says:

    Washington’s backing of Salafis on their quest to overthrow previously stable (or at least semi-stable) authoritarians in the Middle East will have significant blowback. This is just the first direct evidence.

    Why are we so excited by the “Arab Spring”? And why do we so strongly support it – even against the dictators we own like Mubarak? Is it some failing/failed grand strategy? Is it kowtowing to the severe pro-Israel bend in our foreign policy and a program to destablize Israel’s neighbors out of some sense of protecting that nation? Or are our current masters in the Administration so enthralled with the language of “democracy” and “progress” that they cannot understand that there are hundreds of years of culture still to change before any part of the Middle East can come to look like the West?

    I prefer to believe we remain as always, foolish, naive and arrogant Americans. Blundering around the world supporting causes that sound good on the Sunday talk shows and believing they will earn some domestic votes come some November. The truth may be this simple.

    Condolences to the families and friends of these patriots killed overseas. Their names will join a long list of others on the south wall of the State Department lobby. And others will go on that wall after them. So long as we are willing to act with impunity and arrogance globally, we cannot get upset when those acted upon react. Especially the salafis. And especially on 11 September.

    RP

  2. Peterr says:

    According to an update at The Guardian, the attack in Benghazi started before the ambassador arrived on the scene.

    Latest information from our correspondent in Libya is that the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, went to the consulate this morning to inspect the damage. His car was reportedly attacked, killing him and two bodyguards.

    That was as of 50 minutes ago.

  3. HinTN says:

    When is Islam going to mature sufficiently for scholars and religious leaders to readily condemn these violent responses to “criticism” of the Prophet? Oh, I forgot, we don’t seem able to condemn the “Christian” zealots either.

  4. emptywheel says:

    Note: one person who has not yet commented, AFAIK, is Egyptian President Morsi.

    Libya’s has though. QUite forcefully.

  5. tomw says:

    Seems like a very complicated process unfolding in the Middle East. Michael Hayden sure seemed pleased recently with how things are going. Whatever that means.

  6. harpie says:

    Link from The Guardian Blog:

    Tragedy in Libya; Blake Hounshell; Foreign Policy; 9/12/11

    Blog:

    Hounshell notes that the film at the centre of yesterday’s attacks may have been obscure before, but it isn’t now.

    I wonder who would benefit from that?

    From Marcy’s link

    The film was made by an Israeli filmmaker, Sam Bacile, who has gone into hiding.
    The film was promoted by Morris Sadek, an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner who lives in California.
    Speaking by phone to the Associated Press from an undisclosed location, writer and director Bacile remained defiant, maintaining that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement.
    Bacile, 52, admitted he had not anticipated such a furious reaction to his film and said: “I feel sorry for the embassy. I am mad”.
    He also said the film was produced in English and that he did not know who had dubbed it in Arabic.
    The full film has not been shown yet, he said, and he said he had declined distribution offers for now.
    The two-hour movie, “Innocence of Muslims”, cost $5m to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors, said Bacile.
    Sadek said that he had promoted the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.

  7. hidflect says:

    And immediately “pro-gaddafi forces” are blamed. What an insult to the family of the dead. They serve in death as they did in life. In service of Machiavelli.

  8. harpie says:

    @harpie:

    Murray:

    […] But part of the responsibility for these deaths lies with the US and Israeli far right activists who made a film insulting Islam, with precisely the intention of provoking a spiral of violence. There are many interest groups longing to promote a perpetual climate of war and fear; some of them, like these filmmakers, are easier to identify than others.[…]

  9. emptywheel says:

    Moon of Alabama suggests the film is just cover for revenge for our killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi.

    And now there are reports of Salafist protests outside our embassy in Tunis.

  10. harpie says:

    @emptywheel: Thanks for the Moon of Alabama link.
    The film is being used by both sides to incite the rabble to riot.

    Efficient.

    I’m still reading the MoA linked speech by [former] Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, but so far it’s quite interesting.

  11. OrionATL says:

    this death is a tragedy for stephen’s family and friends.

    it is also a great loss for the united states – the loss of highly-trained talent in an area of the world where the united states badly needs such talent to help understand and shape events.

    stephens had worked in the muslim world since serving as a peace corps volunteer. he spoke arabic and french.

    miss wiki speaks:

    Early life

    Stevens was born and raised in Northern California, and graduated from Piedmont High School in 1978. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982. From 1983 to 1985, he taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. He graduated with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1989. He later studied for a Master of Science (M.S.) from the National War College in 2010. He spoke Arabic and French.

    Prior to joining the United States Foreign Service, he was an international trade lawyer based in Washington, D.C.[4]

    Foreign Service

    Stevens joined the United States Foreign Service in 1991. His previous overseas assignments included: Deputy Principal officer and Political Section Chief in Jerusalem; political officer in Damascus; consular/political officer in Cairo; and consular/economic officer in Riyadh. In Washington, Ambassador Stevens served as Director of the Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs; Pearson Fellow with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; special assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Iran desk officer; and staff assistant in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

    He served twice previously in Libya, as the Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007 to 2009 and as Special Representative to the National Transitional Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the Libyan revolution. He arrived in Tripoli in May 2012 as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.[4]

  12. harpie says:

    This comes via a commenter at Glenn Greenwalds column at the Guardian.

    “The Attack on the US Consulate Was A Planned Terrorist Assault Against US and Libyan Interests”

    I haven’t heard of Quilliam before.

  13. OrionATL says:

    @harpie:

    tx, harpie.

    that was interesting and sounded credible.

    (and greenwald’s commentary on important aspects of this emotional topic was simply masterful).

  14. thatvisionthing says:

    @harpie: I was listening to BBC radio this morning as the story was breaking, and the [I thought Libyan] man-at-the-scene they were interviewing was spitting furious about the movie and the attack on the prophet. The British interviewer was at a loss for how an amateur youtube could cause such trouble, and the man being interviewed was so excited his words were tumbling over themselves as he switched voices from himself to his version of what the movie said – “I am speaking in English now…” Hasty, unpolished interview with interruptions, much different than the Quilliam you linked to:

    The military assault against the US Consulate in Benghazi should not be seen as part of a protest against a low budget film which was insulting Islam – there were just a few peaceful protesters present at the event. Indeed, there have been no other demonstrations regarding this film in Libya.

    (Was the interview I heard from Egypt maybe?) …though iirc the man agreed that the youtube was not worth the response it caused.

    Heard in passing.

  15. chetnolian says:

    @harpie:
    The Quilliam Foundation is quite well known in the UK. It is an organisation containing ex-fundamental Muslims who have recanted, usually on becoming old enough to understand the World a little better. It is not anti Muslim as such.It sometimes walks a fine line between objectivity and anger, but after a shaky start deserves to be listened to, not least because its memebers often actually know of what they speak

  16. Jeff Kaye says:

    Lots of Stevens’ cables over at Wikileaks Cablegate site.

    I thought this one highly ironic. Snippet:

    (S/NF) Turbi partly attributed the fierce mindset in
    Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern
    Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that
    heard in other parts of the country…..

    The most troubling and difficult aspect of Turbi’s
    account is the pride that many eastern Libyans, particularly
    those in and around Derna, appear to take in the role their
    native sons have played in the insurgency in Iraq. The reported
    ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support
    for and participation in jihad despite GOL security
    organizations’ efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL
    officials that the east is under control may be overstated.

    Too bad that Stevens, no doubt a Department man who went along with US policy, got caught up having to support the very extremists he knew were problematic. It was the US policy of embracing Salafists that killed Stevens. Why does the US do this? Well both the US and Britain have done this for decades. It is part of the way the imperialists rule, by allying themselves with the most reactionary sectors of society, the better to control the toiling classes and keep them from organizing with a left program. Remember, (and he was not an Islamic zealot at all), the US backed Saddam and made him a made man when he showed he was willing to kill Communists and left-nationalists like Qassim. Or the alliances with fascistic groupings in Europe and Latin America, all in the name of anti-communism, or to destroy unions or land reform groups.

    Play with fire, be prepared to be burned. That’s what 9/11 was all about, btw.

  17. Jeff Kaye says:

    This is worth reproducing in part, too. Another Libya Embassy cable, apparently not written by him, but which he had to have read, and which he classified:

    S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000945

    SIPDIS

    NOFORN
    SIPDIS

    E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/7/2017
    TAGS: KISL [Islamic Issues], PTER [Terrorists and Terrorism], PREL [External Political Relations], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], LY [Libya]

    SUBJECT: LIBYAN REACTION TO AQ-LIFG MERGER

    TRIPOLI 00000945 001.2 OF 002

    CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, DCM, Embassy Tripoli, State.
    REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

    ¶1. (C) Summary: Reaction to the November 3 announcement by
    al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, that the Libyan
    Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) had joined forces with al-Qaeda
    (AQ) and was calling for the overthrow of Qadhafi’s regime has
    been relatively muted. The GOL has not yet issued a public
    statement and its leadership is reportedly divided over the
    wisdom of doing so. Regime insiders are concerned that the
    LIFG/AQ announcement could presage a period of political
    violence that could hurt their personal economic interests,
    while the reaction of average Libyans has ranged from concern
    about instability and adverse economic consequences to
    enthusiasm for the merger. End summary….

    (S/NF) By contrast with the elite, who viewed news of the
    merger with concern, Elobeidi said “a significant number” of
    Libyans welcomed the announcement. He cautioned against
    interpreting such support as a sign that most Libyans are
    fundamentalist Muslims or are sympathetic to the idea of
    establishing an Islamic caliphate, although he conceded that
    more conservative iterations of Islam were enjoying a resurgence
    in Libya. Rather, the level of dissatisfaction with Qadhafi’s
    family and regime is such that some Libyans are willing to
    support any alternative perceived to be viable in the hope that
    the next regime will be less oppressive….

    (C) Comment: Like many things in Libya, reaction to news of
    the AQ-LIFG merger has been an exercise in slow-motion. While
    regime insiders are predictably concerned, the more varied
    reaction of average Libyans underscores the existence of a
    certain degree of support for AQ-LIFG. The more difficult
    question is the extent to which that support derives from
    genuine affinity for an Islamist agenda as opposed to a desire
    to be rid of Qadhafi’s regime, whatever the cost. End comment.

    http://cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=07TRIPOLI945&q=stevens

  18. harpie says:

    @joanneleon:

    “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice will be done. Make no mistake, justice will be done.”-President Obama

    OY! I really don’t like the sound of that.

    @chetnolian-Very helpful information. Thanks.

  19. joanneleon says:

    This is being characterized as a terrorist attack?

    A U.S. source told CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton that authorities were “leaning” toward the theory that al Qaeda planned the attack and that the protest seems to have been a fortuitous coincidence for the militants. The fact that some of the attackers were armed with rockets and grenades is one of the factors leading to that initial conclusion.

    Rogers told Jackson there was a “high likelihood” that the attack had an affiliation with “al Qaeda elements in Libya.”

    Wanis al-Sharef, a Libyan Interior Ministry official in Benghazi, said there had been threats that Islamic militants might try to take revenge for the death of al Qaeda’s No. 2 commander Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in June, and he said the U.S. consulate should have been better protected.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57511043/u.s-officials-deadly-libya-attack-likely-planned/

    I’m confused because when victory was declared in Libya, Al Qaeda like flags were flown in Benghazi and there was no sign of any problem with that.

  20. harpie says:

    @joanneleon:

    Thanks for keeping up with this, Joanneleon.

    @joanneleon:

    But Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who received a preliminary briefing from U.S. officials on the attack,[…]

    Our next Secretary of State?

    Also chetnolian, I meant to bold your name, @28, to make sure you saw it. Sorry.

  21. OrionATL says:

    the washington post’s editorial board and i agree for a change:

    “J.CHRISTOPHER STEVENS, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was a skilled and courageous diplomat who repeatedly placed himself at risk in order to support the cause of a democratic Libya. His death, along with those of three other Americans, during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday is a tragedy…”

    at

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-death-of-an-ambassador/2012/09/12/ed3b719e-fcfa-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_story.html?hpid=z2

  22. harpie says:

    Craig Murray on The Quilliam Foundation:

    New Labour Corruption and Quilliam

    My own view is that those who have adopted religous fanaticism – for whatever religion – display an absence of good judgement.
    Ed Husain is by his own account a former religous extremist. He is one of the leaders among those who realised that, having tried to make a mark in the world through religious fanaticism, they can make more money and career progress by turning traitor on their former beliefs and colleagues, and jumping on the anti-Islamist gravy train.
    Both the original fanaticism and the high profile and lucrative betrayal are evidence of a sociopathic character.
    Husain is now a wealthy man. The government set him up in the Quilliam foundation and has thrown more than £1 million of taxpayers’ money at it. He is in great and lucrative demand on the mainstream media.[…]

    Well, that leaves no doubt about what he thinks. It seems threats of libel suits followed…

    From his
    response to a letter from one of the libel lawyers:

    I refute your points entirely. My blog posts are part of a wider political debate surrounding the Quilliam Foundation Ltd. The view that Mr Husain has swung from one extremist view to the opposite has been very widely reported and deplored in blogs and on newspapers. Anyone who one year supports Islamic terrorism, and the next year supports the invasion of Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan, cannot be fairly described as stable. Indeed the one thing both viewpoints have in common is a support for killing people for political ends.[…]

    From a comment on a 6/8/11 post:

    Speaking of ‘Quilliam’, note that Noman Benotman, originally the UK based ‘top man’ for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), was appointed in 2010 as a Senior Analyst (Strategic Communications) at the Quilliam Foundation.

    Bobbins

  23. Frank33 says:

    What a difference a week makes. Everyone is correctly outraged at this violent attack on US diplomats. Where is the diplomatic immunity? Mittens wants to go to war with other people’s sons.

    But the US and Britain were quite willing to violate diplomatic immunity to kill or capture Julian Assange. And most of these hypocrites in Dee Cee also supported that violation of international law.

  24. chetnolian says:

    @harpie:

    To answer your earlier point, the UK does indeed have a large Muslim poulation, mainly from Pakistan but including many other ex Imperial origins. Not surprisingly the relationships between the UK and Pakistan (and other parts of the old Empire) are often close but confusing.

    Craig Murray’s views do represent a widely held view on Quilliam, especially Ed Hussein, but may not be any more balanced than theirs. There is a really strained divide among UK leftwing intellectuals, especially on the extent to which, in embracing multiculturalism, you find yourself accepting views from other cultures you would condemn in your own culture. I admit to being a bemused observer of this and at a loss as to the right answer.

  25. Frank33 says:

    We all love our freedom of speech, especially in the Free Speech cages. Anyone should have the right to make a film, if it is presented with honesty and art. That does not include the fake government Bin Laden videos. “Innocence of Muslims” is a fraud and a fake also. No freedom of speech for liars who are trying to create more wars.

    The “producer” “Sam Bacile” is not a real person. The actors in the film claim that they were misled about the story and plot. And they repudiate this trash. Someone paid $5 million dollars to make this.

    “The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose,” 80 cast and crew members said in a statement to CNN. “We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

  26. P J Evans says:

    @OrionATL:
    It gets murkier and murkier. Apparently the cast and crew thought they were working on something about Egypt under the Romans, and the film (or at least the part of it that showed up on Youtube) was overdubbed (badly) to make it anti-Muslim. The alleged producer is a Copt, who has used several names, was apparently involved with that Qu’ran-burning minister in Florida, and somehow the video was put up and publicized in a way that got it seen primarily by North African Muslims.

    (I’m smelling rats, but not anyone who is a terrorist in the DHS/FBI definition.)

  27. P J Evans says:

    @Frank33:
    The producer is an actual person (Nakoula Basseley Nakoula), just not who he claimed he was. AP says: ‘Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.’

  28. OrionATL says:

    @P J Evans:

    good lord! who could think this stuff up?

    (well, stuff like it – any 20-something working for breitbart)

    with the internet, any individual can be a player in foreign affairs – or domestic.

    tx for this info, pj.

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