Thursday, September 13, 2012

Deadly Islamist Violence in Libya and Egypt

From Reuters, WASHINGTON/BENGHAZI, Libya, 13 Sept 2012:
...U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans ...died after Islamist gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate and a safe house refuge in Benghazi on Tuesday night. The attackers were part of a mob blaming America for a film they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
The violence in the eastern city, a cradle of Libya's U.S.-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi last year, came on the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Another assault was mounted on the U.S. embassy in Cairo in which protesters, who included Islamists and teenage soccer fans, tore down and burned a U.S. flag.
Stevens, 52, became the first U.S. ambassador killed in such an attack since Adolph Dubs, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, died in a kidnapping attempt in 1979.
U.S. government officials said the Benghazi attack may have been planned in advance and there were indications that members of a militant faction calling itself Ansar al Sharia - which translates as Supporters of Islamic Law - may have been involved.
They also said some reporting from the region suggested that members of Al-Qaeda's north Africa-based affiliate, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been involved.
"It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack," one U.S. official said. However, some U.S. officials cautioned against assuming that the attacks were deliberately organized to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Security personnel were separated from Stevens during the attack, U.S. officials said, describing a chaotic scene of smoke, gunfire and confusion.
A U.S. official said Washington had ordered the evacuation of all U.S. personnel from Benghazi to Tripoli and was reducing staffing in the capital to emergency levels.
The U.S. military is moving two Navy destroyers toward the Libyan coast, giving the Obama administration flexibility for any future action against Libyan targets, according to a U.S. official. The military also is dispatching a Marine Corps anti-terrorist security team to boost security in Libya.
The violence in Benghazi and Cairo threatened to spread to other Muslim countries.
Police fired teargas at angry demonstrators outside the U.S. embassy in Tunisia and several hundred people gathered in front of the U.S. embassy in Sudan. In Morocco, a few dozen protesters burned American flags and chanted slogans near the U.S. consulate in Casablanca....
...Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said Stevens and another diplomat died as a result of the consulate attack, while the other Americans died in what a Libyan military officer called an intense and highly accurate mortar attack on the safe house.
Ziad Abu Zaid, the duty doctor in the emergency room at Benghazi Medical Centre on Tuesday, said he had treated Stevens.
"He came in a state of cardiac arrest. I performed CPR for 45 minutes, but he died of asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation."
U.S. officials said Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith and one security officer were trapped under fire in the burning consulate building.
The security officer made it outside and returned with help to search for the diplomats, officials said. The searchers found Smith, who was already dead, but were unable to find Stevens amid repeated exchanges of gunfire between Libyan security forces and the attackers over the next several hours.
"At some point in all of this ... we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information on what his condition was at that time," a senior U.S. official said.
Stevens' body was later returned to U.S. custody at Benghazi airport, the official said.
Images of Stevens, purportedly taken after he died, circulated on the Internet. One image showed him being carried, with a white shirt pulled up and a cut on his forehead.
Two more Americans died when a squad of U.S. troops sent by helicopter from Tripoli to rescue the diplomats from the safe house came under mortar attack, said Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, commander of a Libyan special operations unit ordered to meet the Americans.
"It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it," Sharif said of the safe house.
...Security experts say the area around Benghazi is host to a number of Islamist militant groups who oppose any Western presence in Muslim countries.
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