U.S. officials say the Obama administration is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike to mark the anniversary of 9/11, and not a spontaneous mob enraged over a anti-Islamic YouTube video
President Barack Obama vowed in a Rose Garden address that the U.S. would "work with the Libyan government to bring to justice" to those who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel. Intelligence officials said the attack on the Benghazi consulate was too coordinated or professional to be spontaneous, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official.
Obama branded the attack as "outrageous" and vowed to track down the perpetrators, while ordering a tightening of diplomatic security worldwide.
The ambassador, Stevens, and the other Americans died after Islamist gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate and a safe house refuge in Benghazi on Tuesday night. The attackers were part of a mob blaming America for a film they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
The violence in the eastern city, a cradle of Libya's U.S.-backed uprising against Moammar Gadhafi last year, came on the 11th anniversary of al- Qaida's attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Another assault was mounted on the U.S. embassy in Cairo in which protesters, who included Islamists and teenage soccer fans, tore down and burned a U.S. flag.
Stevens, 52, became the first U.S. ambassador killed in such an attack since Adolph Dubs, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, died in a kidnapping attempt in 1979.
U.S. government officials said the Benghazi attack may have been planned in advance and there were indications that members of a militant faction calling itself Ansar al Sharia - which translates as Supporters of Islamic Law - may have been involved.
They also said some reporting from the region suggested that members of Al-Qaida's north Africa-based affiliate, known as Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been involved.
"It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack," one U.S. official said. However, some U.S. officials cautioned against assuming that the attacks were deliberately organized to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Security personnel were separated from Stevens during the attack, U.S. officials said, describing a chaotic scene of smoke, gunfire and confusion.
A U.S. official said Washington had ordered the evacuation of all U.S. personnel from Benghazi to Tripoli and was reducing staffing in the capital to emergency levels.
The U.S. military is moving two Navy destroyers toward the Libyan coast, giving the Obama administration flexibility for any future action against Libyan targets, according to a U.S. official. The military also is dispatching a Marine Corps anti-terrorist security team to boost security in Libya.
The violence in Benghazi and Cairo threatened to spread to other Muslim countries.
Police fired teargas at angry demonstrators outside the U.S. embassy in Tunisia and several hundred people gathered in front of the U.S. embassy in Sudan. In Morocco, a few dozen protesters burned American flags and chanted slogans near the U.S. consulate in Casablanca.
Obama said the world must unite against such "brutal acts" as the assault in Libya.
"The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack," he said, while insisting it would not threaten relations with Libya's new government. "... And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people."
Libyan leader Mohammed Magarief apologized to the United States over an attack.
U.S. SECURITY STEPPED UP WORLDWIDE
Obama said he had ordered an increase in security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the globe.
The attacks could alter U.S. attitudes towards the wave of revolutions across the Arab world that toppled secularist authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and brought Islamists to power.
The violence also could have an impact on the closely contested U.S. presidential race ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Republican Mitt Romney, Obama's challenger, criticized the president's response to the crisis. He said the timing of a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo denouncing "efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims" made Obama look weak as protesters were attacking U.S. missions.
Romney said it was "disgraceful" to be seen to be apologizing for American values of free speech. Obama's campaign accused Romney of trying to score political points at a time of national tragedy. Obama said Romney has a tendency "to shoot first and aim later."
Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said Stevens and another diplomat died as a result of the consulate attack, while the other Americans died in what a Libyan military officer called an intense and highly accurate mortar attack on the safe house.
Ziad Abu Zaid, the duty doctor in the emergency room at Benghazi Medical Centre on Tuesday, said he had treated Stevens.
"He came in a state of cardiac arrest. I performed CPR for 45 minutes, but he died of asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation."
U.S. officials said Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith and one security officer were trapped under fire in the burning consulate building.
The security officer made it outside and returned with help to search for the diplomats, officials said. The searchers found Smith, who was already dead, but were unable to find Stevens amid repeated exchanges of gunfire between Libyan security forces and the attackers over the next several hours.
"At some point in all of this ... we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information on what his condition was at that time," a senior U.S. official said.
Stevens' body was later returned to U.S. custody at Benghazi airport, the official said.
Images of Stevens, purportedly taken after he died, circulated on the Internet. One image showed him being carried, with a white shirt pulled up and a cut on his forehead.
Two more Americans died when a squad of U.S. troops sent by helicopter from Tripoli to rescue the diplomats from the safe house came under mortar attack, said Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, commander of a Libyan special operations unit ordered to meet the Americans.
"It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it," Sharif said of the safe house.
Western countries denounced the Benghazi killings and Russia expressed deep concern, saying the episode underscored the need for global cooperation to fight "the evil of terrorism."
The attack raised questions about the future U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya, relations between Washington and Tripoli, and the unstable security situation after Gadhafi's overthrow.
Witnesses said the mob at the consulate included tribesmen, militia and other gunmen. Hamam, a 17-year-old who took part in the attack, said Ansar al-Sharia cars arrived at the start of the protest but left once fighting started.
"The protesters were running around the compound just looking for Americans, they just wanted to find an American so they could catch one," he said.
'WE STARTED SHOOTING AT THEM'
"We started shooting at them, and then some other people also threw hand-made bombs over the fences and started the fires in the buildings," he said.
"There was some Libyan security for the embassy outside but when the hand-made bombs went off they ran off and left."
Hamam said he saw an American die in front of him in the mayhem that ensued.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to investigate the attacks.
A senior administration official told Fox News that the early investigation indicates the attack was planned, but said the administration is not jumping to conclusions, calling it "premature" to do so.
Lawmakers were not so hesitant.
"Absolutely, I have no doubt about it. It was a coordinated, military-style, commando-type raid," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Fox News. He added that his briefings indicated "military movements."
"This was a well- planned, well-targeted event. No doubt about it," Rogers said. He said the Al Qaeda-linked Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades is one group being looked at by officials.
Former chairman of the House intelligence committee Pete Hoekstra told Fox the attack had marks of al-Qaida
"We've been talking for years about the desire of al Qaida, radical jihadists to celebrate the anniversary of 9/11," he said. "All my background, all of the conversations that I've had over the last 18 hours lead many people to believe that this was just more than a mere coincidence."
Hoekstra added that the protesters, who were reportedly angered by a film that cast Islam's Prophet Muhammad in a bad light, attacked in Benghazi, not Tripoli. Benghazi, he said, "where it so happens our ambassador is." And they were "fully armed and fully equipped," he said.
Hoekstra noted that al Qaida has called for followers to step up attacks against the U.S. Hoekstra said the film may have been just a cover to carry out such an attack.
Other lawmakers were equally skeptical.
"The timing of this on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 is more than just coincidence," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement.
Meanwhile the United States has evacuated all of its personnel from Benghazi to the Libyan capital and has reduced the staff at its embassy in Tripoli to unspecified "emergency" levels, a senior U.S. official told reporters in a conference call.
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