BENGHAZI/BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON (EJP) ---EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the killing of the US ambassador to Libya as his car was apparently targeted by a rocket attack in the eastern city of Benghazi Tuesday night following the storming of the consulate by angry activists.
“I am deeply schocked by the despicable attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, which killed four US public servants, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
Ashton called on Libya “to take all the necessary measures without delay to protect the lives of all diplomats and foreign staff working in Libya.”
The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz also strongly condemned the attack: "The US diplomat and his staff were in Libya to help the country to return to peace, stability and prosperity. I call on the Libyan authorities to do their utmost to find and condemn the perpetrators of this crime," he said in a statement.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement: "It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the death of four American personnel.”
President Barack Obama quickly ordered increased security at US diplomatic posts around the world, while slamming Tuesday's deadly assault in Benghazi, an Islamist stronghold in eastern Libya, which coincided with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens," Obama said, in a White House statement.
"I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe," he added.
Christopher Stevens was one of at least four Americans killed as he and three other officials fled the stack on the embassy, only for the car in which they were travelling to be hit by a rocket fire. A second report claimed Stevens died of smoke inhalation whilst trapped in the besieged consulate building.
A former political section chief at the US embassy in Jerusalem, Stevens was a career diplomat who specialised in Middle Eastern affairs, having served in various posts across the region.
Having previously acted as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Libya between 2007-2009, he served as US representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council during last year’s popular uprising, before being appointed to his post a ambassador in May 2012.
Protests Tuesday evening, sparked by outrage over a film made by an Israeli-American ridiculing the prophet Muhammed and promoted by an Islamophobic Egyptian Coptic Christian living in the US, led to the storming of the US Embassy.
A 14-minute trailer of the film was released on youtube in both its original English format and a dubbed Egyptian Arabic version, featuring the controversial depiction of Muhammed as a fraudulent womaniser and madman.
Abdelmonoem al-Horr, spokesman for the Libyan interior ministry's security commission, said rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the consulate from a nearby farm.
Witnesses said the attackers ripped up a US flag, then looted the consulate before setting it on fire.” "
Dozens of demonstrators attacked the consulate and set fire to it," said a Benghazi resident, who gave his name only as Omar, adding that he had seen the flames and heard shots in the vicinity.
Another Libyan witness said armed men, including ultra-conservative Salafists, had closed off the streets leading to the consulate.
The violent protest was strongly condemned by Libya's General National Congress, which nonetheless maintained it plans to elect a new prime minister at a session later on Wednesday.
The first order of business for the new premier will be to bring order to the myriad militias born out of last year's uprising.
"We present our apologies to the United States, the American people and the entire world for what happened," the GNC's president, Mohamed al-Megaryef, in a statement.
The Libyan assault came after thousands of Egyptian demonstrators Tuesday tore down the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy in Cairo and replaced it with a black Islamic flag, similar to one adopted by several militant groups.
Nearly 3,000 demonstrators, most of them hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement, gathered at the embassy in a protest over the film.
Egyptian police intervened without resort to force and persuaded the trespassers to come down.
An Egyptian official said that security has been stepped up in the area around the embassy.
The Egyptian government condemned the film saying it was anti-Islam but urged restraint.
The Muslim Brotherhood called for protests outside mosques across Egypt on Friday in protest at the film. Coptic activists said they would stage a vigil on Wednesday.
France, which was a major backer of last year's uprising that ousted
Kadhafi, demanded that the new authorities take action to restore order in Benghazi which has seen a wave of violence in recent months.
"We had hoped and continued to hope that it would pacify the country but obviously you can always have extremists who behave in this way. It is absolutely unacceptable and the Libyan authorities must react," said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.