(CBS/AP) 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.
"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, " he said.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the attacks on a U.S. consulate in eastern Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three American members of his staff.
He ordered increased security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.
In a White House statement, Obama said he had ordered ‘‘all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.’’
In a last-minute addition to the president’s schedule, Obama made a public statement in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday morning. He was joined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday assailed President Barack Obama anew over his administration's handling of foreign attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions, saying the president's team sent "mixed signals to the world" in the face of violence
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says it's never too early for America to condemn attacks on its sovereignty and says the White House gave "mixed signals" in its response to the breach of the American embassy in Egypt.
In a written statement earlier Wednesday, Obama called Stevens a ‘‘courageous and exemplary representative of the United States.’’
‘‘I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,’’ Obama said in the statement. The four Americans, he said, ‘‘exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe.’’
The White House said Obama was notified Tuesday night that Stevens was unaccounted for and was told Wednesday morning that Stevens had been killed.
Obama was informed about the developments in Libya by his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon as the president began a weekly meeting Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. The White House said Obama was kept apprised throughout the evening and then again Wednesday morning.
The Pentagon said early Wednesday that it was working with the State Department on Obama’s order for increased security around the world.
‘‘We are following this tragic incident closely with the State Department,’’ Lt. Col. Steven Warren, a Defense Department spokesman said. ‘‘We are prepared to support the State Department in any way.’’
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said those killed had been ‘‘committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.’’
The U.N. Security Council has a long-scheduled meeting Wednesday morning to discuss Libya and diplomats said the United States is seeking a council statement on the attack. U.N. Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, a former American diplomat and close friend of Stevens’, is scheduled to brief the council on Libya.
‘‘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,’’ Clinton said.
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,’’ she said.
Stevens joined the Foreign Service in 1991 and spent his early State Department career at posts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. After working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff for Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Stevens was posted to Libya as deputy chief of mission.
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.
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.
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. (
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.
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.