US official dies in Libya consulate attack in Benghazi

No-one was said to have been in the building when it was set on fire

A US state department official was killed and at least one other American was wounded when militiamen stormed the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

It is believed the protest was held over a US-produced film that is said to be insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Armed men raided the compound with grenades before setting it on fire.

On Tuesday, protesters against the film breached the walls of the US embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

In the attack in Benghazi, unidentified armed men stormed the grounds, shooting at buildings and throwing handmade bombs into the compound.

Analysis

This has been one of the most serious attacks in Libya against a foreign mission. The situation is now said to be calm.

The identities of the assailants at the US consulate are nearly as obscure as the home-made low-budget movie that is believed to have sparked the violent and deadly affair.

Initial claims made by residents in Benghazi and at least one official blamed the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia brigade. As the attack unfolded it was said that a range of different armed men were involved, including members of that brigade.

Whoever is responsible knows all too well the weakness of the central government in confronting an attack on this scale. It's been a challenge for the transitional authorities, not least because they have no proper army in place yet.

They are still reliant on some regional brigades and local militias to help them impose their authority in times of crisis.

Security forces returned fire but Libyan officials say they were overwhelmed.

"One American official was killed and another injured in the hand. The other staff members were evacuated and are safe and sound," Libya's deputy interior minister Wanis al-Sharif told AFP news agency.

The identity of the US official killed is not yet known. The consular worker was reported to have been shot.

Social media calls

In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the death, saying: "We are heartbroken by this terrible loss".

"Some have sought to justify this vicious behaviour as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," she said in a statement.

"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."

Reports say a militia known as the Ansar al-Sharia brigade was involved in the attack, but the group has denied the claim, the BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says.

Start Quote

Car on fire in Benghazi

There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind”

End Quote Hillary Clinton US Secretary of State

Our correspondent says many people are still armed following the conflict that overthrew Col Muammar Gaddafi last year.

The film that sparked the demonstration is said to have been produced by a 52-year-old US citizen from California named Sam Bacile, and promoted by an expatriate Egyptian Copt.

The two men are described as having anti-Islamic views.

A trailer of the low-budget movie has appeared on YouTube translated into Arabic.

There were calls on social media networks for protests against US interests in the capital, Tripoli, but no disturbances have been confirmed, our correspondent says.

Obama criticised

The rally followed a demonstration in Cairo, in which protesters breached the US embassy and tore down the United States flag, which was flying at half mast to mark the 9/11 attacks, and replaced it with an Islamist banner.

Thousands of protesters had gathered outside the US embassy in the Egyptian capital.

In Cairo, the US embassy flag was torn down

Egyptian protesters condemned what they said was the humiliation of the Prophet of Islam under the pretext of freedom of speech.

"Both Muslims and Christians are participating in this protest against this offence to Islam," said one protester, according to Associated Press news agency.

US Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney criticised President Barack Obama for his response to the protests.

"It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathise with those who waged the attacks," he said in a statement.

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