Tuesday, September 11, 2012

American Embassies Attacked in Egypt and Libya

American Embassies Attacked in Egypt and Libya 

A Libyan security official says one American consulate employee has been shot dead and another wounded in the hand during an attack at the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Wanis al-Sharef, an interior ministry official in Benghazi, said the two were shot at the consulate during an attack by armed men who stormed the building. He provided no further details.

The angry protest at the consulate Tuesday was sparked by outrage over a film produced by an American in California and promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States attacking Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Witnesses said the armed men set fire to the consulate and fired shots into the air, burning much of the build.

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the U.S. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters)
Ultraconservative Islamist protesters also climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt's capital Tuesday and brought down the flag, replacing it with a black flag with an Islamic inscription to protest the film.

Hundreds of protesters marched to the embassy in downtown Cairo, gathering outside its walls and chanting against the movie, which was reportedly produced in the United States.

"Say it, don't fear: Their ambassador must leave," the crowd chanted.

Dozens of protesters then scaled the embassy walls, went into the courtyard and took down the flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart. The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith on it, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet."

The flag, similar to the banner used by al-Qaeda, is commonly used by ultraconservatives around the region. Almost all the embassy staff had left the compound before the protest, and the ambassador was out of town.

A CNN producer on the scene reported that the incident prompted guards to fire a number of warning shots.

Protest draws thousands

The protest was sparked by outrage over a video being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States, clips of which are available on the social website YouTube and dubbed in Egyptian Arabic. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, showing him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad in any fashion, much less in an insulting way.

By evening, the protest grew with thousands standing outside the embassy, chanting "Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die." A group of women in black veils and robes that left only their eyes exposed chanted, "Worshippers of the Cross, leave the Prophet Muhammad alone."

Dozens of riot police lined up along the embassy walls. They did not stop protesters who continued to climb up the wall and stand on it, chanting. But it appeared they were no longer going into the embassy compound.

One young member of the ultraconservative Salafi movement, Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim said, "This is a very simple reaction to harming our prophet."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was working with Egyptian authorities to try to restore order.

Most embassy staff had left

Only a few staff members were still inside, as embassy security had sent most staff home early after learning of the upcoming protest, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

It was not exactly clear who made the video that angered the protesters.

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the U.S. known for his anti-Islam views, told The Associated Press from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify. He said the video "explains the problems of the Copts [a Christian sect] who suffer from Muslims," which he blamed on the Qur'an itself.

For several days, Egyptian media have been reporting on the video, playing some excerpts from it and blaming Sadek for it, with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.

Concerns over backlash

Medhat Klada, a representative of Coptic Christian organizations in Europe, said Sadek's views are not representative of expatriate Copts.

"He is an extremist … We don't go down this road. He has incited the people [in Egypt] against Copts," he said, speaking from Switzerland. "We refuse any attacks on religions because of a moral position."

But he said he was concerned about the backlash from angry Islamists. "They don't know dialogue and they think that Islam will be offended from a movie."
The embassy is located in a diplomatic area in Garden city, where the British and Italian embassies are located, only a few blocks away from Tahrir Square, the centre of last year's uprising that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. Embassy is built like a fortress, with a wall several metres high. But security has been scaled back in recent months, with several roadblocks leading to the facility removed after legal court cases by residents complaining their access to nearby streets was blocked.

Cairo (CNN) -- Angry protesters attacked U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, citing in both instances an online film considered offensive to Islam.
In Cairo, several men scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy and tore down its American flag, according to CNN producer Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who was on the scene.

In Libya, witnesses say members of a radical Islamist group called Ansar al-Sharia protested near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, where NATO jets established no-fly zones last year to blunt ground attacks from then Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
The group then clashed with security forces in the city, blocking roads leading to the consulate, witnesses said.

The Libyan government notified the United States that an employee at the U.S. Consulate was killed, a State Department official told CNN.

The State Department does not have independent confirmation of the death, the official said. The nationality of the worker was not immediately known.

Libya's General National Conference condemned the attack, saying it "led to the regrettable injury and death of a number of individuals." Lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday night that they were investigating.

Middle East attacks against U.S.

It was unclear whether the two attacks were coordinated, CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend said Tuesday night.

Protesters storm U.S. embassy walls

"One such breach of an embassy or consulate's walls or security on any given day would be tremendous news. ... The fact that two of them happened on the same day that is the 9/11 anniversary where Americans are remembering those that we lost, you have to ask yourself, what are American officials trying to understand about this and whether or not these two are related?" she asked.

In Egypt, police and army personnel formed defensive lines around the U.S. Embassy in an effort to prevent demonstrators from advancing, but not before the protesters affixed a black flag atop a ladder in the American compound.

The black flag, which hangs in full view from inside the complex, is adorned with white characters that read, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger," an emblem often used by Islamic radicals.

A volley of warning shots were fired as a large crowd gathered around the compound, although it is not clear who fired the shots.

Egyptian groups point to U.S. websites, including YouTube, that have scenes from the film. Some anti-Muslim blogs also have flagged the movie.

In a series of disjointed scenes, filmmakers depict Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer.

Most of the Muslim world considers depictions of Mohammed to be blasphemous and deeply offensive.

It was not clear late Tuesday who produced the film and under what auspices.

Embassy officials issued a warning to Americans in Egypt, telling them to avoid the demonstrations which "may gather in front of the U.S. Embassy, or Egyptian government buildings such as the People's Assembly and Ministry of Interior."

"It is unclear if large numbers will take to the streets, but clashes may occur should two opposing groups come into contact with one another," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. "Large gatherings and non-essential travel in and around downtown and Garden City should be avoided this afternoon."

Frenzied protesters could been seen Tuesday afternoon holding up bits of a shredded American flag to television camera crews while chanting anti-U.S. slogans.

An embassy phone operator told CNN that the compound had been cleared of diplomatic personnel earlier in the day, ahead of the apparent threat, while Egyptian riot police and the army were called in.

"This is an expression of a feeling that is thought to be an insult," said Nizih El Naggary, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. "But events like this are extremely deplorable. And we have to work to get things under control."

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday, pledging to protect embassies and warning of the protests' potentially debilitating effects on the Egyptian economy.
"There are police forces at the demonstrations," El Naggary said. "They should be protecting the embassy and asking people to leave."

Several individuals claimed responsibility for organizing the demonstrations Tuesday, including Salafist leader Wesam Abdel-Wareth, who is president of Egypt's conservative Hekma television channel.

Mohamed al-Zawahiri -- the brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri -- added, "We called for the peaceful protest joined by different Islamic factions including the Islamicc Jihad (and the) Hazem Abu Ismael movement."

"We were surprised to see the big numbers show up, including the soccer Ultra fans," he said. "I just want to say, how would the Americans feel if films insulting leading Christian figures like the pope or historical figures like Abraham Lincoln were produced?"

He added that "the film portrays the prophet in a very ugly manner, alluding to topics like sex, which is not acceptable."

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo announced that it had canceled visa services for Wednesday.
It also said in a statement that it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy," the statement said. "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Demonstrations elicited a mixture of reactions from the Egyptian street, where last year tens of thousands turned out in opposition to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
This summer, Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy, was sworn into power at Tahrir Square, the scene of the nation's revolution in 2011.

Though Tuesday's embassy protests are the first that Morsy has dealt with, Egypt recently produced similar scenarios when protesters attacked the Israeli and Syrian embassies in unrelated episodes.

"These protests are a bad image for Egypt," said a Cairo street vendor named Ahmed. "Of course I'm against insulting Islam, but it's the undereducated, poor people who are out here causing problems."

"All I want for Egypt is security and stability," he said. "And as you can see this isn't it."
The incident occurred on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as crowds gathered across the United States in somber remembrance of a day that left nearly 3,000 people dead.

Tuesday's focus on the controversial film also drew comparisons to outcry generated from a 2008 movie produced by an anti-Muslim Dutch lawmaker, which then sought to portray Islam as a violent religion.

Geert Wilders' film "Fitna," which he released online, featured images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from the Quran.

CAIRO: A few dozen Egyptian protesters climbed an outer wall of the United States Embassy complex in Cairo on Tuesday evening and tore down the American flag, replacing it will another flag that read “There is no God but God and Mohamed is His Messenger.” Shocking? Only slightly.

Flashback to August 2011 in front of the building housing the Israeli Embassy in Egypt. Then, a thin fence was erected to supposedly keep protesters from storming the embassy, housed on two upper levels. We know that didn’t work. But the most popular event of that demonstration – which saw protesters storm a lower level to the embassy and toss documents from the windows – was a young man who scaled the outer side of the building to take down the Israeli flag and replace it with the Egyptian flag, gives a clue as to why Egyptian protesters might have decided to climb the US embassy walls on Tuesday.

During the August 2011 protests, the man dubbed “Flagman” was praised, promoted and even given a flat free of charge by the Egyptian government for his “patriotic” effort. For most Egyptians he was viewed as a hero, his act of “bravery” given numerous praise on social media networks at the time.

On Tuesday, Egyptians had gathered in front of the US embassy to protest what can only be described as a barbaric and insulting film created by an Israeli-American “filmmaker” and promoted by ultra-conservative Jews, Christians and Coptic Christians.
For Egyptian Muslims of all walks of life, young, old, liberal and conservative, the film that portrayed the Prophet Mohamed as a pedophile, violent and sex addict, is a red line in Egypt.

So when there was no security presence in front of the embassy, undoubtedly the idea of taking down the American flag sprouted from the memory of how the “Flagman” was praised. The protesters jumped on the wall, a few hopped down and took down the flag, replacing it with a symbolic Islamic flag – not in any way related to al-Qaeda as many Western reports were so quick to point to.

The move, while being roundly condemned by many pundits inside Egypt and abroad, is likely to be seen in a positive light. This was evidenced by the reaction at a local cafe only a few blocks from the embassy, where they smiled and clapped in support of the action.

This is important. Egyptians are not going to sit lightly as a film is attacking its Prophet. And without a real security presence attempting to block any advance on the embassy, moving on the embassy seemed the logical move.

On top of this was the reporting that labeled the protesters “Islamists” missed the true nature of those present on Tuesday. A quick walk through the protest showed it was not “bearded men” gone crazy, but a mix of Egyptian society, from young football fans to middle-class citizens as well as the ultra-conservatives. Insulting Islam will always bring forth a cross-section of Egypt and this must be highlighted.

At the end of the day, the US responded appropriately, sending a statement earlier in the day on Tuesday that condemned the film. While it may have been too little too late, the demonstration on Tuesday shows there is a serious need to look at freedom of speech, in Egypt and how it will differ from the American view on the topic.

Egypt is moving in a positive direction. The country has had free elections. Media have largely been more open, despite a few hiccups that need to be resolved. But at the end of the day, just as Europe has outlawed Holocaust deniers, Egypt’s conception of freedom of speech may not, and never, include insulting Islam as the film did.

Egyptians are angry, and rightfully so. The film, “Innocence of Muslims” is downright disgusting. Does that mean the US Embassy should have been attacked? No. It does a disservice to the cause of Muslims in their anger towards the film, but understanding why, the historical nature of angry protests in the country and remembering the “Flagman” and his story, adds much understanding to how this situation played out.

                                                                       Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed along with three others in a rocket attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi was "a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States," President Barack Obama said in his initial statement Wednesday condemning the attack.

Initial reports said the slain embassy staffers—who also include foreign service information management officer Sean Smith—were trying to flee the consulate building that was under assault by protesters apparently angry over a film they say insults Prophet Muhammad.

However, U.S. officials told The New York Times and CNN on Wednesday that the attack may have been planned by a group that "had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack."

According to the Associated Press, a Libyan doctor who treated Stevens said the diplomat died of severe asphyxiation from smoke inhalation and that he tried for 90 minutes to revive him.

Stevens, 52, is the sixth ambassador to die in an attack in U.S. history, according to CBS News, and first since 1988, when Arnold Raphel, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, was killed in a plane crash there.

"Throughout the Libyan revolution, [Stevens] selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi," Obama said. "As ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya's transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my administration, and deeply saddened by this loss."

Stevens, a California native and U.C.-Berkeley grad, was a 21-year veteran of foreign service, the White House said.

"I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a separate statement. "He spoke eloquently about his 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.

"As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi," Clinton continued. "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. Chris was committed to advancing America's values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger."

In response to the attack, the United States is "deploying elite Marine counterterrorism teams to Libya," Foreign Policy reports. The Pentagon is sending Fleet Anti-Terrorism Teams, or FAST teams, a U.S. defense official told the magazine. According to Reuters, the United States has evacuated all personnel from Benghazi to Tripoli.

"It's especially tragic because Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city he fought to save," Obama said later Wednesday morning in hastily arranged public remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House.

Speaking at an impromptu press conference in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday, Mitt Romneycondemned Tuesday's attacks as "disgusting" and "outrageous," but he also attacked the Obama administration for standing by a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that he claimed was an "apology" for American values.

Late Tuesday, Romney issued a statement saying it was "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." On Wednesday, he stood by his criticism of the White House.

Meanwhile, a photograph purportedly showing Stevens' body was published online by several news outlets, including the New York Times, sparking an outcry from readers and a debate among editors.

Ambassador Chris Stevens considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya. As the President's representative, his job is to develop a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Libya. Ambassador Stevens was the American representative to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi during the revolution.

When he's not meeting with government officials or foreign diplomats, you can find Ambassador Stevens meeting with Libyan academics, business people, and civil society activists, exploring Libya's rich archaeological sites, and enjoying Libya's varied cuisine.
After several diplomatic assignments in the Middle East and North Africa, Ambassador Stevens understands and speaks Arabic and French. He likes the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and hopes you will, too.

"I had the honor to serve as the U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition during the revolution," Stevens said in May in a video introducing himself to the Libyan people as the new U.S. ambassador there. "And I was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights.

"Growing up in California I didn't know much about the Arab world," Stevens continued. "I traveled to North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, worked as an English teacher in a town in the high Atlas mountains in Morocco for two years and quickly grew to love this part of the world.

"We know Libya is still recovering from an intense period of conflict," he added. "There are many courageous Libyans who wear the scars of that battle."

Slain Ambassador Chris Stevens Slipped Into Libya on a Cargo Ship During Revolution

During the early days of the Libyans' fight to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Christopher Stevenswrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship and sailed into the rebels' stronghold city of Benghazi. He arrived at a time when the crackle of gunfire could be heard each night.
Stevens and his team didn't even have a place to stay, but found space in a hotel briefly, moving out after a car bomb went off in the parking lot, according to his own account in State Magazine last year.

Stevens, whose diplomatic foothold were a couple of battered tables, was on literally on the rebels' side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable and in danger of being crushed by Gadhafi's troops who were moving on the city. The threat was pushed back at the last minute by the intervention of NATO planes which began bombing Gadhafi's tanks and troops.

Stevens, who was elevated to ambassador four months ago, was killed Tuesday by militants in Gadhafi who stormed the Benghazi consulate.

Stevens "will be remembered as a hero by many nations," his boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said this morning. "He risked his life to stop a tyrant then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya. The world needs more Chris Stevenses."

President Obama, who ordered flags lowered to half staff today, hailed the ambassador as a "role model to all he worked with and the young diplomats that strive to walk in his footsteps."

One of the U.S. Embassy staff members who worked under Stevens tweeted that he "was the best person I have ever worked for."
"I learned more from him in three months than I have in my adult life," tweeted Hannah Draper, who is in the U.S. on leave from the embassy. "He loved Libya and Libyan people. He died doing what he believed in."

In an August blog post, Draper said the ambassador was "legendary" in Libya because he stayed in the country through the revolution, "liaising with the rebels and leading a skeleton crew of Americans on the ground to support humanitarian efforts and meeting up-and-coming political leaders."

"Several Libyans have told me how much it means to them that he stayed here throughout the revolution, losing friends and suffering privations alongside ordinary Libyans,"
Draper wrote on her blog. "We could not ask for a better ambassador to represent America during this crucial period in Libyan history."

Ambassador Chris Stevens eats bazeen, a traditional Libyan dish, at a friend's house in Gharyan, Libya. Image Credit: U.S. Embassy in Libya/Facebook

Stevens, 52 and single, served as a special envoy to the Libyan Transitional National Council last year from March to November, according to his State Department biography. During his 21 years in theForeign Service he also served in Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo and Saudi Arabia.

Stevens, who spoke French and Arabic, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco where he taught English for two years before returning to northern California to get his law degree from the University of California.

In a State Department video introducing Stevens as the new ambassador to Libya last May, Stevens says he "quickly grew to love this part of the world" during his time in the Peace Corps and since joining the Foreign Service "spent almost my entire career in the Middle East and Africa."

He says in the video that he "was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights" during the 2011 revolution, which ousted Gadhafi.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March, Stevens said, "It will be an extraordinary honor to represent the United States during this historic period of transition in Libya."

Three other Americans were killed in the U.S. Embassy attacks in Libya on Tuesday including Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, who died of smoke inhalation after protestors set the embassy aflame. Smith was in Libya on a "brief, temporary assignment," Clinton said.

He leaves behind his wife, Heather, and two young children, Samantha and Nathan.

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