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Dark day for diplomacy

US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens (left) was killed in a rocket attack yesterday.

BENGHAZI — The US ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car, a Libyan official said, as they were rushed from a consular building stormed by militants denouncing a US-made film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

Gunmen had attacked and burned the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, a centre of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, late on Tuesday evening, killing one US consular official. The building was evacuated.

The Libyan official said the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire.

“The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,” the official in Benghazi told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department in Washington. US ambassadors in such volatile countries are accompanied by tight security, usually travelling in well-protected convoys. Security officials will be considering whether the two attacks were coordinated.

Libyan deputy prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagour condemned the killing of the US diplomats as a cowardly act.

The consular official had died after clashes between Libyan security forces and Islamist militants around the consulate building. Looters raided the empty compound and some onlookers took pictures after calm returned.

In neighbouring Egypt, demonstrators had torn down an American flag and burned it during the protest. Some tried to raise a black flag with the words “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his messenger”, a Reuters witness said.

US pastor Terry Jones, who had inflamed anger in the Muslim world in 2010 with plans to burn the Koran, said he had promoted Innocence of Muslims, which US media said was produced by an Israeli-American property developer; but clips of another film called Mohammad, Prophet of Muslims, had been circulating for weeks before the protest.

That film portrayed Mohammad as a fool, a philanderer and a religious fake. In one clip posted on YouTube Mohammad was shown in a sexual act with a woman.

Jones, a pastor in Florida whose latest stunt fell on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, triggered riots in Afghanistan in 2010 with his threat to burn the Koran. (Reuters)

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