The United States ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff were killed after a mob angered over an amateur American-made short film that mocks Islam's Prophet Muhammad stormed the U.S. consulate in the eastern city Benghazi late Tuesday.
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a 21-year career U.S. foreign service officer and one of the most experienced U.S. envoys in the region, had taken up his post in the capital, Tripoli, in May.
US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens served as U.S. ambassador to Libya since May. He held two earlier postings in Libya.
His previous assignments were in Israel, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He worked as an international trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in 1991 and taught English in Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1983 to 1985.
His death was the first of an American envoy abroad in more than 20 years. The U.S. State Department reported that U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith, was also killed. It did not identify the two other victims.
U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday condemned the killing of the four Americans.
"They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives," Obama said in a statement. He described Stevens as a "courageous and exemplary representative of the United States" who had selflessly carried out his duties throughout the Libyan revolution.
Stevens was widely admired by the Libyan rebels for his support of their uprising that overthrew longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
"He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "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."
The president of Libya's national assembly, Mohammed Magarief, apologized Wednesday "to the United States, the people and to the whole world for what happened."
Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told reporters that an armed group attacked the premises in an "almost suicidal" mission. He said the U.S. consulate was at "fault" for not taking adequate precautions. But further details of the incident were unclear.
Earlier reports said several dozen gunmen from the Islamist group Ansar al Sharia attacked the U.S. consulate with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, then set it on fire. The Associated Press reported that Stevens and his colleagues were killed when he went to the consulate to evacuate staff.
In Egypt, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, tore up an American flag and replaced it with an Islamic banner. The demonstrators there - mainly ultraconservative Islamists - continued their protest action through the early hours of Wednesday.
The protests coincided with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The mobs were sparked by outrage over the film that U.S. media said was produced by Israeli-American Sam Bacile and financed by expatriate members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority group. Coptic leaders from around the world denounced the film.
Clips from the movie in English and Arabic recently posted on YouTube show the Prophet Muhammad as a child of undetermined parentage and portray him as a buffoon who advocates child abuse and extramarital sex, among other overtly insulting claims.