J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, who was killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, eastern Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. (State Department)
An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012.
UPDATE at 7:56AM: Statement From U.S. Secretary Of State Clinton:
It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the death of four American personnel in Benghazi, Libya yesterday. Among them were United States Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith.
We are still making next of kin notifications for the other two individuals. Our hearts go out to all their families and colleagues.
A 21 year veteran of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Stevens died last night from injuries he sustained in the attack on our office in Benghazi.
I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago. He spoke eloquently about his passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people.
This assignment was only the latest in his more than two decades of dedication to advancing closer ties with the people of the Middle East and North Africa which began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation.
He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started. Chris was committed to advancing America's values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger.
Sean Smith was a husband and a father of two, who joined the Department ten years ago. Like Chris, Sean was one of our best. Prior to arriving in Benghazi, he served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal, and most recently The Hague.
All the Americans we lost in yesterday's attacks made the ultimate sacrifice. We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.
America's diplomats and development experts stand on the front lines every day for our country. We are honored by the service of each and every one of them.
(Original Story) -- Libyan officials said Wednesday that U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens was among four Americans killed in an attack by Muslim protesters on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi the previous evening.
Early Wednesday morning President Obama issued an order for increased security for all U.S. diplomats and staffers around the world.
"I do condemn the cowardly act of attacking the US consulate and the killing of Mr Stevens and the other diplomats," Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said on his Twitter account. "Amb. Stevens was a friend of Libya and we are shocked at the attacks on the U.S. consulate."
Abushagur said in a subsequent tweet: "I condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms. This is an attack on America, Libya and free people everywhere."
Only one death had been verified Tuesday night by U.S. officials, and the State Department had yet to confirm Stevens' death or the two others first reported Wednesday morning by the Reuters news agency. CBS News is seeking confirmation from U.S. officials.
The U.S. Embassy in Libya, in the capital city of Tripoli, would say Wednesday only that officials were still gathering information on the attack in Benghazi, which an official called an "intense battle".
Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official in Benghazi, said a total of four Americans were killed when the angry mob, which gathered to protest a U.S.-made film that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad, fired guns and burned down the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
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Al-Sharef said Stevens died of suffocation, while two U.S. Marines sent to Benghazi when the clash erupted were shot and killed by well-armed protesters. It was not immediately clear whether the Marines were part of Stevens' security detail. The American whose death was confirmed on Tuesday also died of a gunshot wound.
According to his biography page on the U.S. Embassy's website, Stevens "was the American representative to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi during the revolution," in Libya. Benghazi was the capital of rebel-held Libya during the uprising to oust Qaddafi.
According to the Benghazi security official who spoke to media Wednesday, the angry mob stormed the consulate after the U.S. troops who responded fired rounds into the air to try and disperse the crowd.
The official said the Libyan guards employed to guard the consulate building were far outgunned by the protesters, and thus retreated when the building was stormed.
Hours before the protest erupted in Benghazi, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, tearing down and replacing the American flag with an Islamic banner.
Tuesday's attacks were the first such assaults on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country, at a time when both Libya and Egypt are struggling to overcome the turmoil following the ouster of their longtime leaders, Muammar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, in uprisings last year.
There have been indications in recent months that radical, armed Islamic groups have gained a foothold in Libya since the fall of the Qaddafi regime.
One of the groups to emerge in post-revolution Libya, Ansar al-Sharia, claimed responsibility Wednesday for the attack in Benghazi, which has been condemned by the country's new government.
The protests in both countries were sparked by outrage over the film ridiculing Muhammad, which was produced by an American-Israeli in California and being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film, dubbed into Arabic, were posted on YouTube during the summer.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Tuesday evening the first death of a State Department officer had at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. She strongly condemned the attack and said she had called Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, "to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya."
Clinton expressed concern that the protests might spread to other countries. She said the U.S. is working with "partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide."
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," Clinton said in the statement released by the State Department. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Sam Bacile, an American citizen who said he produced, directed and wrote the two-hour film, has gone into hiding, The Associated Press reports.
He told the AP from an undisclosed location that he had not anticipated such a furious reaction.
"I feel sorry for the embassy. I am mad," Bacile said.
The incidents also led to an exchange between the campaigns of Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney and President Obama, over the nature of a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo following the attack there.
In Benghazi, a large mob stormed the U.S. consulate, with gunmen firing their weapons, said Wanis al-Sharef, an Interior Ministry official in Benghazi. A witness said attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at the consulate as they clashed with Libyans hired to guard the facility.
Outnumbered by the crowd, Libyan security forces did little to stop them, al-Sharef said.
The crowd overwhelmed the facility and set fire to it, burning most of it and looting the contents, witnesses said.