CAIRO (USA TODAY) - Days of planning and online promotion by hard-line Islamist leaders helped whip up the mobs that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and launched a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that killed an ambassador and three others.
As the U.S. tightened security worldwide at embassies and Libya's president apologized for the attack, details emerged of how the violence began, according to experts who monitor Egyptian media.
Christopher Stevens, 52, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed, along with three other Americans, on Tuesday night when a mob stormed the embassy in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The killings there followed demonstrations in front of Cairo's U.S. Embassy, where protesters tore down the U.S. flag and scaled the embassy's wall.
The protest was planned by Salafists well before news circulated of an objectionable video ridiculing Islam's prophet, Mohammed, said Eric Trager, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by Jamaa Islamiya, a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
When the video started circulating, Nader Bakkar, the spokesman for the Egyptian Salafist Noor party, which holds about 25% of the seats in parliament, called on people to go to the embassy. He also called on non-Islamist soccer hooligans, known as Ultras, to join the protest.On Monday, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, Mohamed, tweeted that people should go to the embassy and "defend the prophet," Trager said.
The Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday condemned the violence.
"It's no problem for them to protest and have their demands ... but it doesn't mean you need to (inflict) any harm on the embassy here," said Dina Zakaria, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Just because you are against something doesn't mean you have to kill," she said. "I think it's really a disaster."
President Obama on Wednesday condemned the attack and ordered stepped-up security at diplomatic installations around the world.
"There is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None," the president said.
U.S. officials said about 50 Marines who are members of an elite group known as a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team are being sent to Libya to reinforce security at U.S. diplomatic facilities. The team's role is to respond on short notice to terrorism threats, say officials, who disclosed the plan on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday said, "This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the government" or the people of Libya, saying it should "shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world."
"Violence like this is no way to honor religions or faith, and as long as there are those who will take innocent lives in the name of God, the world will never know true and everlasting peace," she said.
Clinton said that Americans and Libyan security personnel fought alongside each other in an effort to defend the compound. She said Libyans brought Stevens' body to the hospital.
Clinton earlier called on Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya.
El-Megarif described the attack as "cowardly" and offered his condolences on the death of Stevens and the three other Americans. Speaking to reporters, he vowed to bring the culprits to justice and maintain his country's close relations with the United States. He said the three Americans were security guards. "We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world," el-Megarif said.
The attacks occurred Tuesday night in Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's prophet, Mohammed, according to Libyan officials. Stevens was killed when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try and evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Three other Americans were also killed.
The State Department identified one of the other Americans as Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer. The identities of the others were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Ziad Abu Zeid, the Libyan doctor who treated Stevens, said he had "severe asphyxia," apparently from smoke inhalation, causing stomach bleeding, but had no other injuries.
Stevens was a career diplomat who spoke Arabic and French and had already served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He was confirmed as ambassador to Libya by the Senate this year.
His State Department biography, posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy to Libya, says he "considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya."
Clinton said Stevens had a "passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people."
"This assignment was only the latest in his more than two decades of dedication to advancing closer ties with the people of the Middle East and North Africa which began as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco," Clinton said.
He "risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation. He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started," she said.
The attacks come nearly a year and a half after uprisings began against longtime dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, which led to weakened security networks in both countries.
The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), condemned the film that sparked unrest in a statement Tuesday.
."The party considers the film a racist crime and a failed attempt to provoke sectarian strife between the two elements of the nation: Muslims and Christians," a statement said on the FJP's English-language website. "Moreover, the FJP considers this movie totally unacceptable, from the moral and religious perspectives, and finds that it excessively goes far beyond all reasonable boundaries of the freedoms of opinion and expression."
The film is certainly a blatant violation of religious sanctities, international norms and conventions on human rights which emphasize that freedom of expression with respect to religion must be restricted by controls within the law that safeguard public interest, in order to protect lives, morals, rights and freedoms," the statement said.
Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew and who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, Innocence of Muslims, said he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, Bacile, who went into hiding Tuesday, remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
The Muslim Brotherhood burgeoned in popularity and presence after Mubarak was ousted in February 2011 and President Mohammed Morsi formerly headed its political party.
"Some people in the Middle East don't understand the relationship between government and media and think the (U.S.) government controls the media like they do here," said Said Sadek, political sociologist and affiliate professor at the American University in Cairo. "They are putting the blame on the U.S. government, which has nothing to do with it."
Stevens joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and spent his early State Department career at posts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. After working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, Stevens was posted to Libya as deputy chief of mission.
In that post, Stevens wrote several confidential cables back to Washington, describing Gadhafi's bizarre behavior. During the 2011 revolt against Gadhafi, he was one of the last American diplomats to stay in Tripoli and after the embassy was closed, he was appointed to head the U.S. liaison office to the Transitional National Council.
The attack on the Benghazi consulate took place as hundreds of protesters in neighboring Egypt scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down and replaced the American flag with a black Islamist banner.
The attacks in Benghazi and Cairo were the first such assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime authoritarian leaders, Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak, in uprisings last year.
The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Mohammed produced by an Israeli filmmaker living in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube.
Before Tuesday, five U.S. ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty, the last being Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979, according to the State Department historian's office.