Obama condemns embassy attack in Libya, vows justice
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 6:17AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2012 8:10PM EDT
U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to bring justice to those who attacked the American embassy in Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador and three of his staff members.
The Pentagon ordered two warships to the Libyan coast on Wednesday following the attack, which also left several Libyan security guards dead.
One warship is currently off the coast of the northern African country while a second is en route and expected within the next few days.
Officials said the ships, which carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, do not have a specific mission but they give military personnel flexibility to respond to any order issued by the president.
"Make no mistake. We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama told reporters gathered outside the White House Wednesday morning.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack,” later adding: “there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.”
"As long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace."
The president's remarks followed shortly after a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which she emphasized "there is no justification" for the attack in Benghazi and a similar mob assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
In her remarks, Clinton acknowledged the speculation that angry reaction to an anti-Islam movie had spurred the attacks.
But officials are now investigating whether the deadly attack in Benghazi may have been premeditated, rather than an angry protest that got out of control.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that officials in Washington are studying the differences between the attack in Libya and the protests at the American embassy in Cairo this week.
Both protests were spurred by an anti-Islam video produced in California.
While the protesters in Cairo appeared to be an unarmed mob, those involved in the attack on the consulate in Libya were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
The New York Times reported that while intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point in time, officials said there’s a possibility that an organized group was involved in the attack.
CNN reported that a pro- al-Qaeda group that was responsible for previous armed attacks on American consulate in Benghazi is the chief suspect in Tuesday’s attack that claimed the lives of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to the country.
Obama also expressed condolences Wednesday to the families of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, 52, and Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith, both of whom were killed in Benghazi.
Smith, a married father of two, had recently served at the U.S. consulate in Montreal, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
“He loved his time here in Montreal, he loved the food here in Montreal,” David Jacobson, U.S. ambassador to Canada, told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday.
He said staff at the consulate in Montreal met to discuss the tragic news. “There was not a dry eye in the house.”
Jacobson wouldn’t comment on whether there was sufficient security at the Libyan embassy at the time of the attack, but he said, “However it happened, the conduct was just simply outrageous.”
He continued, “Sometimes we‘re faulted because we have barriers around consulates, but I think what happened (Tuesday) is an example of why we do that.”
Political expert Bessma Momani said the tragic deaths at the embassy are a reminder that following the Arab Spring, Middle Eastern countries continue to face an uphill battle towards development.
“Unemployment, social disparity, corruption, they have not been routed out by the election of new governments,” said Momani.
She added that Stevens’ death was a loss to the U.S. and the Libyan people alike.
“The Libyan prime minister went out and apologized. You couldn’t get a more sincere apology from the leader of the country over this attack,” said Momani, adding that protesters gathered in Tripoli to condemn the attacks.
“It just shows you how a very small number of people can absolutely hijack an entire country and bring it down.”
Both the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks on the consulate in a statement on Wednesday.
Several Libyan security officers were killed in the attack, and others were wounded, said Libya’s deputy UN ambassador.
Ibrahim Dabbashi said on Wednesday that the attack "in no way serves the interests of Libya" and "gravely damages the image of Islam."
According to the Libyan doctor who treated Stevens, the ambassador was brought to hospital by Libyans early Wednesday morning. No other Americans were with him at the time.
Ziad Abu Zeid told The Associated Press that when Stevens was first brought to the Benghazi Medical Centre, no one knew who he was. He was treated for "severe asphyxia," that had caused stomach bleeding Abu Zeid said, but showed no sign of other injuries.
Stevens -- a career diplomat who had served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt that ended in the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi -- died after a 90-minute attempt to revive him.
The names of the other two Americans who died in Benghazi have not been released, pending notification of their next of kin.
The video that sparked the unrest
The attacks in Libya and Egypt were said to have been sparked by an anti-Prophet Muhammad film produced by a man called Sam Bacile. But there were questions Wednesday about the man’s true identity and whether he had made a full-length feature at all.
A man who said he was Bacile told The Associated Press in an interview that his movie, 'Innocence of Muslims,' is intended to expose Islam's flaws.
"This is a political movie," the 56-year-old told AP in an interview from an undisclosed location where he said he was in hiding after the attacks.
"The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're fighting with ideas," he added, repeatedly using the phrase "Islam is a cancer" during the interview.
Bacile said the complete film has been screened only once, to a mostly empty theatre in Hollywood this summer.
A 14-minute trailer for the film had garnered little interest since it was posted on YouTube in July, but that changed after a version dubbed into Arabic was posted online.
But various media outlets quickly began chipping away at the man’s story, noting that there was no evidence he was an Israeli-American, as initially reported. It was also not clear whether a full-length feature film was actually produced, or if the video posted on YouTube consisted of random clips.
CNN said it received a statement from a group of people who said they were cast and crew members of ‘Innocence of Muslims.’ They claimed they were misled about the film’s plot and message.
Insulting depictions of Prophet Muhammad and Islam have sparked violent protest in the past, notably following the 2005 publication of caricatures of the prophet in a Danish newspaper.
Bacile was apologetic about the American killed at the consulate in Benghazi, but blamed lax security and the angry mob.
In a statement Wednesday, Obama said he was calling for increased security at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya and around the world.
Messages issued by the American embassies in Algeria and Tunisia warned U.S. citizens in those countries to be on alert for more violent protests.
With files from The Associated Press