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US Ambassador Killed in Attack on US Consulate in Libya

September 12, 2012

The US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack yesterday on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack, which occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., was undertaken by a crowd protesting an amateur YouTube video that insulted the prophet Muhammad. The Christian Science Monitor describes the video in question:

It shows Muhammad as a grinning fool, talking to a donkey and dubbing it “the first Muslim animal.” … [A] 14-minute video of the movie in English … is even worse, one badly acted anti-Islamic caricature after another, with all Muslims portrayed as cartoonishly violent and depraved child rapists, and a running “joke” that constantly calls Muhammad “the bastard of the unknown father.”

The controversy began when clips from the trailer (dubbed in Arabic) were shown on an Egyptian television network on September 9 and were presented, according to The Christian Science Monitor (linked above), as having been produced by the US government and Coptic Christians in Egypt. The true origins of the video are unclear. The Lede blog reports the video was posted to YouTube on July 2 by

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian ally of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor known for Koran-burning. So far, however, all that is known for certain is that Mr. Sadek played a small role in publicizing the video, by passing on a link to the English-language trailer in a rambling blog post, an e-mail and a message to his Twitter followers, who numbered less than 80 as of this morning [September 12, 2012]. Mainstream Copts have denounced him as a fringe figure who does not represent their community.

Protests followed in Cairo, Egypt, on September 11 but did not turn violent. Protestors there stole the US flag from the American embassy, destroyed it, and replaced it with an Islamic flag. Protests erupted in Libya, as well. But there the protests were violent, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Stevens. It was initially reported that the Ambassador’s death was a consequence of “spontaneous mob” violence (similar to that in Cairo). However, US officials now suspect the attack on the US consulate may have been planned. The New York Times reports:

The protesters in Cairo appeared to be a genuinely spontaneous unarmed mob angered by an anti-Islam video produced in the United States. By contrast, it appeared the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point, officials said, but indications suggest the possibility that an organized group 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.

The topic has been trending on Twitter today, where you can find reports from Libya of protests condemning the attacks, as well as links to analyses of the challenge this event poses for US foreign policy (see here, here, and here, for example). You might consider the following questions that arise in these analyses: How significant will these attacks be for the future role of the US in the changing Middle East? Are they a sign that Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Americanism are on the rise? Or do they simply reflect the Libyan government’s lack of control over its population?

In addition to reading more about the attacks via these links, you can also view a chronology of how the violence spread (including twitter posts and videos of US leaders’ responses) and read real-time updates on The Lede blog at the New York Times.

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