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U.S. Ambassador Killed In Attack In Libya

Sep 12, 2012
Originally published on September 12, 2012 7:28 pm
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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, with Renee Montagne. Let's get the latest now from North Africa in the wake of attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in both Libya and Egypt. In Cairo, as we saw yesterday, protestors went over a wall and took down an American flag. The far more serious attack was against a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where we now know four Americans were killed, including the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.

NPR's Leila Fadel has covered this region for years, is on the line now from Egypt.

And Leila, would you remind us who Chris Stevens was and why he meant so much to so many people?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, Chris Stevens was the U.S. ambassador to Libya, appointed in May. He was in Libya well before Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and later killed. He came as the U.S. envoy there, and Libyans welcomed him as a sign that the world was on their side when they were struggling against Gadhafi's forces.

INSKEEP: He was welcomed by Libyans. He was favored by Libyans. Is that fair to say?

FADEL: Yeah, that's fair to say. I mean, he was seen as an ally, as an asset to have inside Libya, inside - at the time - what was seen as rebel territory, and then reappointed as the ambassador to the new authorities from the opposition that he knew before they became the authority.

INSKEEP: So he was one of four Americans killed in this attack, another identified as Sean Smith, the other two as yet unidentified by the United States government. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have emphasized in public statements this morning, as we've heard on MORNING EDITION, that they do not blame an entire people or an entire country for the attack or the killing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton specifying a small and awful group of people attacking the embassy there.

What has the response been, the public response been in Egypt and in Libya to this news?

FADEL: Well, I think the deaths in Libya have really widely been condemned, and the attacks on embassies in general have been condemned. Here in Egypt, the spokesman for the president condemned the fact that protestors breached the diplomatic compound. In Libya, the deputy of Interior Ministry and an aide to the prime minister also denounced the killings of the four Americans. Like the president and secretary of state are trying to highlight, this is a small part of the community here, the - especially in the attack in Libya, which was really violent extremists. They were not protestors. They went with RPGs and weapons. And it's a problem that Libya is dealing with, having these militias throughout their country, armed to the teeth.

INSKEEP: At the same time, there were people who seemed to respond violently to a film, or least clips of a film that had been made in the United States that criticized or had a negative portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. How did word of that spread, and why did it become such a flashpoint?

FADEL: Well, the trailer of this film, it's a 14-minute trailer that portrays the prophet as a buffoon whose first convert to the religion is a donkey. So it is extremely offensive for Muslims to never - who believe you should never depict the prophet at all.

But the reason it became a rallying cry was that these clips were dubbed in Arabic and put on local channels here in Egypt, especially a channel called Al-Nas, a Salafi channel, which is an ultra-orthodox form of Islam. And so people - it become a rallying cry.

The protests yesterday at the Egyptian embassy included Coptic Christians originally, as a - in solidarity, that we do not believe in offending any religion. And then it became a little violent.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Egypt today, bringing us up to date. And we should just mention again: President Obama made a statement earlier today, stating, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, that there was no justification for the violence against U.S. diplomatic personnel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.