Vatican steps up condemnation of Libya violence


The Vatican significantly sharpened its condemnation of the violent attack in Libya that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. State Department personnel.

The comments came as Pope Benedict XVI began a two-day visit to Lebanon on Friday.

“The very serious attack organized against the United States diplomatic mission in Libya, which led to the death of the ambassador and of other functionaries, calls for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See,” said a statement Thursday by Vatican chief spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

“Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence. Along with our sadness, mourning and prayers for the victims, we again express the hope that, despite this latest tragedy, the international community may discover the most favorable ways to continue its commitment in favor of peace in Libya and the entire Middle East,” the statement added.

The remarks update a Vatican statement that had not mentioned the murders of the diplomats and had come under criticism for not having condemned the violence in firm enough terms.

The violence broke out in Libya and other countries after reports of an American-made anti-Islam film trailer on YouTube. The Libyan attack was likely a spontaneous one followed by an organized attack a few hours later that was possibly led by anti-American infiltrators into the country, the New York Times reported on Friday.

In the Vatican’s initial statement, Lombardi had decried the “tragic results” of “unjustified offense and provocations” against Muslim sensitivities.

The Pope’s visit is aimed at promoting dialogue and peace in the region. Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a particular concern of the Vatican.

Obama vows justice after U.S. envoy killed in Libya


President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to bring to justice the killers of the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya as he sought to avoid election-year fallout from an attack that cast a spotlight on his administration's handling of “Arab Spring” unrest.

Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama condemned the attack in Benghazi as “outrageous and shocking” but insisted it would not threaten relations with Libya's new elected government, which took power in July after rebel forces backed by NATO air power overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

The targeting of U.S. diplomats in deadly militant violence sparked by a U.S.-made film seen as insulting the Prophet Mohammad, could raise questions about Obama's policy toward Libya in the post-Gaddafi era as he seeks re-election in November.

Obama, apparently seeking to seize the initiative in the aftermath of the attack, pledged to work with the Libyan government to “see that justice is done for this terrible act.”

“And make no mistake: justice will be done,” Obama said, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side. He ordered increased security at U.S. embassies around the world, and a Marine anti-terrorist team was dispatched to boost security for U.S. personnel in Libya.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three embassy staff were killed late on Tuesday when Islamist gun attacked the Benghazi consulate and a safe house refuge in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of last year's uprising against Gaddafi's 42-year rule. Another assault was mounted on the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

Stevens, a 21-year veteran of the foreign service, was one of the first American officials on the ground in Benghazi during the uprising against Gaddafi last year.

Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer, was identified as one of the diplomats killed. The names of the two others were withheld while the government notified their families.

LIBYA POLICY, CAMPAIGN IMPACT

Obama had hailed Libya's election in July as a milestone in its post-Gaddafi democratic transition and pledged that the United States would act as a partner even as he cautioned that there would still be difficult challenges ahead.

In the series of Arab Spring uprisings that shook the Middle East last year, Obama opted for a cautious strategy that steered clear of a dominant role for the U.S. military and drew criticism from Republican opponents at home for what was described as “leading from behind.”

Before the full death toll and details of the Libya attack were known, Obama's Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration's initial response and he repeated the charge on Wednesday.

“It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” Romney told reporters in Florida.

Pushing back hard, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt criticized Romney for making a “political attack” at a time when the country was “confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya,” and Obama then reiterated condemnation of insults to the beliefs of others.

“We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he said. “But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.”

Immediately after his speech, Obama, who was due to leave later in the day on a campaign trip to Nevada, visited the State Department to express solidarity with U.S. diplomats around the world.

The Libya crisis has come at a time when the spotlight was already on the Middle East amid escalating tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

Clinton said the Benghazi attack was the work of a “small and savage group” and that U.S.-Libyan ties would not suffer.

But she seemed to take note that Americans might resent such an attack on U.S. personnel in a North African country they helped to bring out from under long authoritarian rule.

“I ask myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?” Clinton said. “This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.”

Additional reporting by Margaret Chadbourn, Mark Felsenthal, Paul Eckert, Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Trott and David Brunnstrom

Maker of anti-Islam film goes into hiding, the Associated Press reports


The California-based Israeli whose film attacking Islam's prophet Mohammad triggered a deadly attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya has reportedly gone into hiding, the Associated Press reported.

Writer and director Sam Bacile spoke by phone with the AP from a secret location on Tuesday as his movie “Innocence of Muslims” apparently fueled the rage that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. The U.S. mission in Cairo also was the target of protesters, burned an American flag.

Reuters was not able to locate Bacile for comment.

Bacile, 56, is a California real estate developer who describes himself as an Israeli Jew, the AP said.

“This is a political movie,” Bacile told the AP. “The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but we're fighting with ideas.”

The film portrayed Mohammad as a fool, a philanderer and a religious fake. In one clip posted on YouTube, Mohammad was shown in an apparent sexual act with a woman. For many Muslims it is blasphemous even to show a depiction of the Prophet.

Bacile said the film cost $5 million, some of which was paid by more than 100 Jewish donors, the AP said.

<i>Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Chris Francescani; Editing by Bill Trott</i>

Reform leader, Jewish groups condemn Libya attack on U.S. envoys


A top Reform rabbi appeared with Libya's U.S. ambassador and Muslim and Christian leaders condemning the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, along with the anti-Muslim film that allegedly incited the violence.

A rocket attack Tuesday in Benghazi killed four U.S. diplomats, including the Libyan ambassador, Chris Stevens.

“This act of violence, and the similarly threatening violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, must be condemned unequivocally,” Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, said at a news conference Wednesday at the National Press Club. “The losses of life in this manner are an affront to the values of humanity and tolerance that are at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Saperstein appeared at the event  with  Ali Suleiman Aujali, the Libyan envoy to the United States; Imam Mohamed Magid, the president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist who is president of the Interfaith Alliance; and Haris Tarin, the director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Saperstein also singled out for condemnation the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which is circulating on the Internet and has been accused of inciting the attacks. The film, made in America, insults Islam.

“It was clearly crafted to provoke, to offend and to evoke outrage,” he said. “The denigration of religion and religious figures and the intentional framing of religious texts and tenets in this manner must likewise be condemned.”

The Muslim speakers, including the Libyan ambassador, abjured violent protest against perceived insults.

“Our differences, if we want to express them, have to be in peaceful ways,” Aujali said.

Other Jewish groups condemned the violence, suggesting that in its wake the offense of the film was secondary.

“Whether this murderous attack was premeditated or in reaction to a profoundly offensive anti-Islam film, nothing justifies the violence and killings of an innocent U.S. diplomat and embassy personnel,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.

The American Jewish Committee similarly emphasized, “Whatever the provocation by the exercise of free speech in the United States, nothing can justify this heinous attack on U.S. Embassy personnel who sought to assist in building a new era in post-Gaddafi Libya.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said “there can be no justification and no legitimization for such violence.”

Director of anti-Muslim movie that sparked attacks on U.S. facilities not Israeli


The director of an anti-Islam film that helped sparked attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities is not Israeli as he claimed, a consultant to the film said.

The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg reported that a Steve Klein, a consultant to the controversial film, “Innocence of Muslims,” and a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., said that the film's directo,r Sam Bacile, is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Goldberg quoted Klein as saying: “I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved.” Klein said: “His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

Meanwhile, a high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that after numerous inquiries, it appeared that no one in the Hollywood film industry or in the local Israeli community knew of a Sam Bacile, the supposed director-writer of the incendiary film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked Tuesday evening by angry protesters.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning. U.S. officials said that the armed attack on the consulate may have been pre-planned.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag and tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of the movie. Media reports said it was directed by Bacile, who described himself as a California real estate developer. The two-hour movie attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, someone identifying himself as Bacile told the AP.

Bacile said went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that I there are some 15 people associated with the making of the film, all American citizens.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack.

“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,” she said in a statement. “But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Shura Council are scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday to condemn the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and attacks on diplomatic facilities and persons in Libya and Egypt.

In Washington, CAIR’s national officials called on Muslims in the Middle East “to ignore the trashy anti-Islam film that resulted in the attacks.”

Libya declares cease-fire in wake of UN vote to intervene [VIDEO]


Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa annouces a cease-fire.

Libya declared a ceasefire in the country and will comply with a United Nations resolution passed overnight, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said on Friday. The conciliatory message was in sharp contrast to comments made by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi just before the UN vote, in which he said that forces loyal to him would mercilessly attack rebels.

“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” he told reporters. “(Libya) takes great interest in protecting civilians,” he said, adding that the country would also protect all foreigners and foreign assets in Libya.

The UN Security Council, meeting in a emergency session on Thursday, passed a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100 kilometers from Benghazi. It also authorized “all necessary measures” – code for military action – to protect civilians against Gadhafi’s forces.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Pro-Gadhafi forces reportedly strike Zawiyah in bid to regain control


Libyan government forces on Monday struck at rebels in the east of the country and were reported attacking a town near Tripoli, as concern grew over civilian suffering and a growing refugee exodus.

The United Nations said more than one million people fleeing Libya and inside the country needed humanitarian aid, and conditions in rebel-held Misrata town were particularly worrying following attacks on it by forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi.

Offering a potential olive branch to rebels seeking to end Gaddafi’s long rule, one of his associates appealed to opposition chiefs for dialogue, in a sign the ageing autocrat may be ready to compromise with the unprecedented revolt.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

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