WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama today condemned attacks on a U.S. consulate in eastern Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three American members of his staff. He ordered increased security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.
In a White House statement, Obama said he had ordered “all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.”
The attacks occurred Tuesday night in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, according to Libya officials. Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, was killed when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob guns and rocket propelled grenades. Three other Americans were also killed.
Speaking at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decried an attack that she said “should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world.”
She blamed a “small and savage group” of militants, not the people or government of Libya.
“There is no justification for this. None,” Clinton said. “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith and as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know true and lasting peace.”
She said the U.S. and Libya wouldn’t let the attack destroy their newfound partnership.
“The friendship between our countries born out of shared struggle will not be another casualty of this attack,” Clinton said. “We will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice.”
Stevens is the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in an attack since 1979, when Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan.
The State Department identified one of the other Americans killed Tuesday as Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer. The identities of the others were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
In a last-minute addition to the president’s schedule, Obama planned to make a public statement in the White House Rose Garden this morning. He was to be joined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
U.S. officials said approximately 50 Marines are being sent to Libya to reinforce security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in the aftermath of the attack. The Marines are members of an elite group known as a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, whose role is to respond on short notice to terrorism threats and to reinforce security at U.S. embassies. They operate worldwide.
The officials who disclosed the plan to send the Marines spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council had a long-scheduled meeting today to discuss Libya, and diplomats said the United States was seeking a Council statement on the attack. U.N. Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, a former American diplomat and close friend of Stevens’, was scheduled to brief the council on Libya.
In a written White House statement earlier today, Obama called Stevens a “courageous and exemplary representative of the United States.”
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” Obama said in the statement. The four Americans, he said, “exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe.”
The White House said Obama was notified Tuesday night that Stevens was unaccounted for and was told this morning that Stevens had been killed.
Obama was informed about the developments in Libya by his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon as the president began a weekly meeting Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. The White House said Obama was kept apprised throughout the evening and then again this morning.
The Pentagon said early today that it was working with the State Department on Obama’s order for increased security around the world.
“We are following this tragic incident closely with the State Department,” Lt. Col. Steven Warren, a Defense Department spokesman said. “We are prepared to support the State Department in any way.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said those killed had been “committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.”
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 Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate earlier this year.
His State Department biography, posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy to Libya, says he “considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya.”
Clinton said Stevens had a “passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people.”
“This assignment was only the latest in his more than two decades of dedication to advancing closer ties with the people of the Middle East and North Africa which began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco,” Clinton said.
He “risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation. He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started,” she said.
Stevens joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and spent his early State Department career at posts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. After working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff for Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Stevens was posted to Libya as deputy chief of mission.
In that post, Stevens wrote several confidential cables back to Washington, describing Gadhafi’s bizarre behavior. During the 2011 revolt against Gadhafi, he was one of the last American diplomats to stay in Tripoli and after the embassy was closed, he was appointed to head the U.S. liaison office to the Transitional National Council.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.