CAIRO — Libya’s interior minister said Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed when armed Islamist militants overran the U.S. consulate in Libya’s second largest city, in a day of rage that also struck the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where demonstrators hauled down the American flag, tore it to pieces and burned it.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed Stevens’ death and said that three other Americans had died, including another diplomat, Sean Smith. The names of the other dead were withheld, pending notification of relatives, Clinton said.
“Our hearts go out to all their families and colleagues,” Clinton said in a statement.
Speaking at the State Department, Clinton said that U.S. and Libyan security personnel battled the attackers together and that the Obama administration now is working with the Libyan government to identify and track down the assailants.
The United States “will not rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice,” she said.
The administration, she said, will continue supporting the Libyan government as it struggles to surmount serious insecurity in the aftermath of the civil war that overthrew strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
“This was an attack by a small and savage group — not the people or government of Libya,” she said.
She praised Stevens as a dedicated diplomat who she first appointed as U.S. envoy to the opposition groups that fought Gadhafi and then as the U.S. ambassador to the new government.
Stevens, she said, “risked his life to stop a tyrant and then risked his life” working to rebuild Libya.
Clinton later joined President Barack Obama at the White House as the president condemned the “shocking and outrageous attack” and praised Stevens and other dead U.S. officials as “extraordinary Americans.”
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama said the Libyan government was working with the United States to boost security for U.S. diplomatic personnel in the country and track down the assailants and that security was being increased at U.S. missions around the world.
Obama criticized the film that prompted the protest, but he said that nothing justified the consulate assault.
“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he said. “But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
Like Clinton, Obama said that the attack would not undermine U.S. support for the Libyan government.
“Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans. Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’ body to the hospital, where we tragically learned he had died,” he said.
Libyan authorities said Stevens, 52, died of smoke inhalation, but the details of the attack were hazy.
Stevens’ death marked the loss of one the State Department’s best Libyan experts and threatened to mar relations between the United States and Libya’s nascent government.
Stevens had focused most of his diplomatic career on the Middle East, spending time in Cairo, Riyadh and Jersusalem. He first arrived in Libya in 2007 and returned in the spring of 2011 in the early days of the uprising against Gadhafi.
At that time, he met with officials who would become key members of the National Transitional Council and eventually Libya’s first democratically elected government, which was seated last month. He assumed the role of ambassador in May of this year.
Sharif Abdel Meniem, 29, who helped organize the Cairo protest, said he planned the demonstrations “because the Americans did not take a real stand against” Jones’ call.
“The prophet does not have a hand in the 9/11 attacks,” he said as chanters yelled, “The prophet’s army has arrived.”
That the protest fell on Sept. 11 wasn’t lost on those participating.
“This anniversary provokes the United States,” said Islam Mustafa, 23, a student. “But (Americans) are the ones provoking us.”