U.S. Diplomatic Mission Attacks in Benghazi and the Aftermath

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On the day of the 11th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, another attack unfolded--this time, on foreign soil, but still very much hitting close to home. Four U.S. citizens--the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens; a Foreign Service information management officer, and two other U.S. personnel--died when members of the radical Islamist group called Ansar al-Sharia, one of many extremist Salafi groups, clashed with security forces in Benghazi after protesting near the U.S. consulate. It has been debated what has provoked this violence, but it was initially believed that it was due to an online film considered offensive to Islam. Earlier on in the day, in Cairo, there were protests being executed in response to the mentioned video, but whether or not those protests were related to the Benghazi attacks remained unclear in the few days following. The inflammatory video on Islam in question, titled, “Innocence of Muslims,” is a 14-minute long film production that mocks Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. It was uploaded to the video site YouTube in July, 2012, but didn’t gain attention in the Muslim world until its broadcast on an Egyptian Islamist television station until early September. Only days after its broadcast, protests broke out in several cities throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world, including Cairo and some Western countries. Not only were there marches and shouting of anti-U.S. slogans, there was also the burning of U.S. and Israeli flags as well as the burning of some buildings generally associated with the U.S. Islam strictly prohibits any depictions of the prophet Muhammad, unlike in Christianity, where Jesus is often depicted through paintings and sculptures, which Christians tend to worship. While some Islamic leaders praised reaction to the film, and called for further protesting and burning of U.S.-associated objects, such as flags, others Middle Eastern leaders, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, condemned the attacks and reactions to the incendiary film, while also condemning the film itself. President Obama himself condemned the film, but reiterated that it was not an excuse for the violence that was carried out. The filmmaker, once believed to be an Israeli Jew, is now believed to be an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian after it was revealed that he had operated under a false name, which landed him jail time for fraud. Egyptian Copts, the largest Christian community in the Middle East, are often the target of discrimination and attacks by militant Islamist extremist groups. Egyptian authorities ended up charging seven Coptic Christians living in the United States for insulting Islam and harming national unity, which is more symbolic than literal, for the fact that all seven live outside Egypt. The tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt have risen recently due to the release of the low-budget film. As protests continued to erupt across the Muslim world, many Libyans condemned the attacks that happened on their soil and came together in a demonstration to show the United States that the attack did not represent Libya or Libyans, with signs reading phrases such as, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans,” “Sorry people of America, this is not the behavior of our Islam and prophet,” and “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam.” These Libyan citizens aimed to distance themselves from the attacks and the riots that ensued across the country and the world. In response to the attacks, Libya’s government vowed to cooperate with the United States in order to find the perpetrators of the now seemingly planned attack on the consulate. It is suspected that this attack had been planned for a while before its execution, and that it conveniently coincided with the onset of violent protests in response to the anti-Islamic film. Later in September, violent protests surged in Benghazi--not...
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