By Michel Cousins
Tripoli, 12 September:
Libya today denounced the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US embassy staff.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Tripoli, both Prime Minister Abdurrahman El Kib and Mohamed Magarief, president of the General National Congress, expressed sorrow for what they called “a criminal act”.
“We apologise to the American people and to the whole world” for what had happened, Magarief said. He extended Libya’s condolences “to the US government and people” for the death of the ambassador.
Despite the enormity of the event, it would not delay this evening’s planned election of a new prime minister by Congress. It would go ahead, said Magarief.
The attack on the Benghazi mission and the death of the ambassador occurred on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and the possibility of a link was raised by the Congress president. “What happened yesterday coincided with 9/11”, he said, adding: “We reject entirely the use of our territory for such operations.”
It also coincided with “other events” in the country that were designed, he said, “to destroy democracy in Libya”. He was seen as referring to the recent attacks by Salafists on mosques and Sufi shrines across the country. Yesterday’s attack on the US mission was also carried out by Salafists. Al Ansar Al-Sharia, a militant and armed Salafist group were said to be involved.
Magarief called on Libyans to stand united against such threats. The Libyan people, he said, would not allow the revolution to be “stolen or threatened” by such people.
He said that security would be intensified at embassies and for foreign companies operating in Libya. A new joint unit between the GNC and the government would also be set up to monitor security in the country, he announced.
No details of the actual events of last night or how Ambassador Stevens was killed or the nationalities of those who were injured were disclosed by either the prime minister or the president of Congress. Kib said these would be announced after investigations.
Asked by Libya Herald what action was being taken to prevent future attacks by those responsible for the Ambassador’s death, as well as the attacks on the mosques, Kib said that there was no evidence at the moment that the two were connected, and that it needed investigation.
As to how this will affect Libya’s relations with the US, Magarief said he had been assured by Washington that it was “standing side by side” with Libya in the face of such criminality.
Earlier in the day, at a press conference in Benghazi, Wanis Al-Sharif, the deputy interior minister responsible for eastern Libya, who yesterday said that no one was in the consulate when it was stormed, claimed that the protests had been peaceful until US security guards started shooting at them, but also said that those responsible for the attack were Qaddafi loyalists.
His comments have created considerable anger in the Libyan media; reporters at the Prime Minister’s press conference said they were tired of hearing an excuse that was “designed to cover up the security forces’ incompetence”. As Sharif’s Qaddafi loyalist theory,, Prime Minister Kib said that some members of the Qaddafi regime could be involved.
Members of Congress are also angry at Sharif’s statement. Congressman Salah Ajouda Jawdah said on TV that it was “ridiculous”. He added that following an event like this, both the defence minister and interior minister should immediately resign.
Also unimpressed were the corps of ambassadors who were called to a meeting this afternoon at Tripoli’s Mahari Hotel to be briefed by the foreign minister Ashour Bin Khayal. They too were told about plans to increase security but “it was just blah, blah blah”, said one ambassador. Others said there were no details on what had actually happened in Benghazi, and no indication that the government was going to go after the perpetrators.
“It is a catastrophe,” more than one ambassador said. “No-one is going to have any confidence in the country or want to come here. I’m not going to be able to get any of my ministers to come here now”.
The other three men who died of Tuesday’s attack have not been named, although Libyan officials and diplomats say two of them were US security guards.
There remains confusion as to how Stevens died. It is being reported that he was asphyxiated by smoke. However the Libya Herald has seen pictures of his body which are circulating on the internet. There were bruises and blood on the head and seemingly on the torso. These are not consistent with suffocation.