President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed heartbreak and outrage over the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other US diplomatic personnel in a mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya Tuesday.
Stevens was the first US ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.
The violent protests in Benghazi and Cairo were reportedly spurred by the 15-minute trailer of an anti-Islam film posted to YouTube that was produced by someone claiming to be an Israeli real estate developer based in California, who called Islam “a cancer.” But it’s not clear the filmmaker is who he says.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” President Obama said in a statement early Wednesday.
“Make no mistake: Justice will be done,” Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by Clinton Wednesday.
After the ceremony, Obama was to join Clinton for a closed-press visit to the State Department to console State Department colleagues of those killed. In addition to Stevens, they included Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, a husband and father of two who had previously served in Iraq, South Africa, Canada and the Hague.
Stevens was a deeply admired US diplomat who had spearheaded US efforts to support Libya’s democratic transition after the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, the Arabic-speaking Stevens, a native of California, had worked as a trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in 1991. Among his foreign service postings were Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the Iran desk, before he was confirmed as US ambassador to post-Gadhafi Libya earlier this year. (See the welcome video Stevens made to introduce himself to Libyans).
“Like Chris, Sean was one of our best,” Clinton said in a statement.
Two other US personnel killed in Libya were not yet being identified publicly pending notification of their next of kin, Clinton said.
Stevens died of smoke inhalation from a fire set by RPG attacks on the consulate. He had gone to Benghazi to assist the evacuation of US consular staff under attack, reports said.
Meantime, the man who claimed to have written, produced and directed the $5 million film that reportedly sparked the protests said he blamed lax security at the US government facilities and the protesters for the deaths of the US diplomats.
“I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,” the man who identified himself as “Sam Bacile” told the Associated Press in an interview from an undisclosed location Wednesday. “America should do something to change it.”
“Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world,” the AP report said.
But it’s not clear that Bacile is who he claims. Israeli officials said they would not confirm or deny that he is an Israeli citizen, under that or other names.
And there were some hints that Bacile may be a pseudonym, possibly for someone affiliated with the Egyptian Coptic diaspora.
A consultant on the film, Steve Klein, told the AP that Bacile has family members in Egypt. A 2007 interview with Klein, a self-styled terrorism expert and Vietnam vet, mentions his ties to the Copt diaspora community.
Klein’s author biography in a self-published work, “Is Islam compatible with democracy,” states: “With 9/11 2001, I immersed myself with Islam in America; went to every major Mosque in SoCal with Arabic speaking Christians as translators and uncovered useful information about many Mosques being the head quarters of terrorism in America.”
Update: Film “consultant” Steven A. Klein tells The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg that “Sam Bacile” is a pseudonym, he is not Israeli or Jewish, and he doesn’t know his real name.
Klein, who runs an insurance agency in Hemet, California, also registered Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment in 2011, according to California business records examined by Al-Monitor. He could not be reached.
There are no records for anyone with the last name “Bacile” having a real estate license in California.
(Photo: U.S. envoy Chris Stevens, center, accompanied by British envoy Christopher Prentice, left, speaks to Libyan National Council member for Misrata Dr. Suleiman Fortia, right, at the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi, Libya. File Photo by: Ben Curtis , AP.)