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UPDATED: Anger over anti-Muslim film leads to violence and death of U.S. envoy

UPDATED: Anger over anti-Muslim film leads to violence and death of U.S. envoy

(We will continue to update this story, but at the bottom of the page)

The New York Times has extensive coverage on the events that have led to the killing of the U.S. envoy to Libya, in an article by David D. Kirkpatrick, Alan Cowell, and Steven Lee Myers:

The United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three of his staff members in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday night by an armed mob angry over a short American-made video mocking Islam’s founding prophet, the White House and Libyan officials said on Wednesday.

In a statement confirming the four fatalities, President Obama said he strongly condemned the killings and had ordered increased security at American diplomatic posts around the world. It was the first death of an American envoy abroad in more than two decades….

“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,” Mr. Obama said, calling Mr. Stevens “a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States” who had “selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi” and, as ambassador, “supported Libya’s transition to democracy.”

“The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward,” the statement said.

The trailer of the amateurish, American-made video opens with scenes of Egyptian security forces standing idle as Muslims pillage and burn the homes of Egyptian Christians. Then it cuts to cartoonish scenes depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug.

The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by Sam Bacile, whom The Wall Street Journal Web site identified as a 52-year old Israeli-American real estate developer in California. He told the Web site he had raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film. “Islam is a cancer,” Mr. Bacile was quoted as saying….

In Cairo, thousands of unarmed protesters gathered outside the embassy during the day. By nightfall, some had climbed over the wall around the embassy compound and destroyed a flag hanging inside. The vandals replaced it with a black flag favored by ultraconservatives and militants and labeled with the most basic Islamic profession of faith: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Embassy guards fired guns into the air, but a large contingent of Egyptian riot police officers on hand to protect the embassy evidently did not use their weapons against the crowd, and the protest continued, largely without violence, into the night.

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist group and the sponsor of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, urged the United States government on Tuesday to prosecute the “madmen” behind the video, according to the English-language Web site of the state newspaper, Al Ahram.

The spokesman asked for a formal apology from the United States government and warned that events like the video were damaging Washington’s relations with the Muslim world. He also emphasized that any protests should remain peaceful and respect property.

There should be “civilized demonstrations of the Egyptian people’s displeasure with this film,” the Brotherhood spokesman said, according to the newspaper Web site. “Any nonpeaceful activity will be exploited by those who hate Islam to defame the image of Egypt and Muslims.”

Bracing for trouble before the start of the protests here and in Libya, the American Embassy released a statement shortly after noon…: “The United States Embassy in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” It later denounced the “unjustified breach of our embassy.”

Apparently unaware of the timing of the first embassy statement, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, put out a statement just before midnight Tuesday saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Mr. Romney also said he was “outraged” at the attacks on the embassy and consulate.

CNN reports:

Libya’s Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib apologized “to the American people and the government, and also to the rest of the world” for the “cowardly criminal act.”…

Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said Stevens was “a friend of Libya, and we are shocked at the the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.”

“I condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms. This is an attack on America, Libya and free people everywhere,” Abushagur said on Twitter.

Updated at 11:10 a.m.

Associated Press White House Correspondent Ben Feller:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says it’s never too early for America to condemn attacks on its sovereignty and says the White House gave “mixed signals” in its response to the breach of the American embassy in Egypt.

Romney on Wednesday condemned attacks against the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four U.S. diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.

Still, Romney stood by his sharp statement Tuesday night criticizing the Obama administration. On Wednesday he said that statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was “akin to apology” and a “severe miscalculation.”

The statement in question from the embassy website:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Besides the misdirection in blaming the Obama administration for making this statement, is the reality that this was issued by people trying to calm down those upset from potentially resorting to violence. This in no way excuses the violence that then actually happened.


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Kurt Wiesner

Bill is correct. See the updated post “Questions concerning the embassy assault and the anti-Islam video”:

Bill Dilworth

There is an article in the NYT to the effect that the attack in Libya may have been planned in advance, and only tangentially linked to the movie, if at all.


I think part of the problem is our lack of presence in Lybia…we’re new there and do not have the secure facilities most ambassadors have in other countries.

Also, I agree that this ( protest of cheesy film) is a cultural issue. We are very much formed by classical Greek notions of democracy, free thought, and free speech. It pre-dates Islam. (..which I think many people don’t quite get…the notions of free thought/free speech is not a “new” western development…it is very old…)

Kevin McGrane

Bill Dilworth

Lionel –

Legally, you’re right – it’s not like the fire/theater analogy. Morally, I think it’s probably worse, more like intentionally inciting a riot. There’s no legal case to be made, but I do wonder about the possibility of a civil suit.

You’re right, the foreign governments involved should have protected the consulate and embassy. But Libya has enough trouble protecting their own territory from the Islamists: witness the destruction of Sufi tombs recently. It’s unrealistic to expect much from them.

In the past, Marine Security Guards not used deadly force when doing so would not protect diplomats, as in Tehran at the start of the Iranian hostage crisis. It’s possible that something of the sort occurred here: personnel saw that they were outnumbered by a heavily armed mob, and decided withdrawal was the best course. At any rate, the people were killed when an RPG hit the vehicle in which they were fleeing. I have problems imagining what a guard could have done to prevent that under those circumstances.

This is on the nth level of importance, but I wonder why we needed a consulate in Benghazi in the first place.

John B. Chilton

@revsusan who quoted “Muslim Terrorist is to Islam what KKK is to Christianity.”

I think we all agree.

But where do the makers of the video and other provocateurs fit it? What can we agree on here? What parallels are we familiar with in our own experience?

In addition, I doubt that angry mobs provoked by American videos are all terrorists. Instead, their since of sanctity of their prophet justifies in their minds retribution against convenient symbolic targets. Do we have a corresponding type in U.S. history? You trash talk my sister and I kill the next person of your race that I encounter? The source of that sort of behavior isn’t religious. It’s something else.

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