Last Updated : Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:48 PM
TRIPOLI — United States President Barack Obama has sent two warships to the Libyan coast, after condemning as “outrageous and shocking” the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff on Tuesday.
Obama is also sending a 50-strong counter-terrorist team to Benghazi, the site of the murders, which coincided with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Unmanned aerial drones are also said to have been deployed over Libya to help seek out the perpetrators and monitor any suspicious activity.
In a televised address delivered yesterday, the American president praised Stevens as an “exemplary representative of the United States” who “selflessly served our country and the Libyan people”.
Prior to his appointment as US Ambassador to Tripoli in May, Stevens served as the US representative to the National Transitional Council in Benghazi, where he is believed to have been instrumental in enlisting Obama’s support for Libyans in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi during the revolution.
The last time a serving US ambassador was killed was in 1979 in Afghanistan.
Obama has also made clear, however, that Tuesday’s fatal attacks on the US Consulate and a nearby safe house, which left at least five further Americans injured, would not harm relations between Libya and the United States.
“Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan Government to bring justice to the killers who attacked our people”, the president said.
Both the Government and the National Congress have also condemned Tuesday’s attacks and pledged to find those responsible.
Questions have already been raised regarding the capacity of Libyan security forces, however, whose failure to protect the US mission is reckoned to be a contributory factor to Obama’s decision to send American reinforcements.
According to the US State Department, the consulate came under attack at 4pm on Tuesday, and the gunmen were on the premises within 15 minutes.
Local witnesses have claimed that the Libyan security forces guarding the consulate fled shortly after the start of the attack, although Libya’s Ambassador to the United Nations insisted yesterday that Libyan security guards were wounded and killed defending the site.
The full details surrounding Tuesday’s assault remain hazy, but it is now understood that Ambassador Stevens, together with Sean Smith, another US diplomat, were killed by a fire started inside the consulate by the assailants.
The doctor who treated Stevens in hospital said he tried unsuccessfully to revive the diplomat for 90 minutes and that he died of severe asphyxiation.
Two other embassy personnel died having been evacuated to a nearby safe house, the location of which was supposed to have been a secret.
It is also believed that an American convoy was attacked by RPGs, and there was initially speculation that the ambassador had been killed in the blast.
The group responsible is said to be Ansar Al-Sharia, a militant organization with branches across the Middle East and potential links to Al-Qaeda. It is not known whether the Benghazi group has active links with these external branches or simply operates independently under the same name.
The group also claimed responsibility for an assault on the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi in June.
In that latter instance, the militants claimed the attack was in protest against the publication of pictures by Tunisian artists which the group deemed to be offensive to Islam.
Tuesday’s attacks, which took place just a few hours after an assault on the American mission in Cairo, have been linked to the publication of a controversial film, “Innocence of Muslims,” produced by an Israeli-American, which accused the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) of being a criminal.
The four-month-old film, which has been widely condemned in the United States, was largely unheard of until preachers condemned it recently on Arabic news channels.
The true motive of the attackers has not been definitively confirmed, however, with no statement of responsibility yet having been issued, nor any arrests in connection with the incident yet having been made. — Libya Herald