U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were murdered Tuesday in Libya during attacks on the consulate in Benghazi. Reports say Stevens and his staff may gone to the consulate from the embassy in Tripoli evacuate staff or for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony. The consulate was besieged by attackers ostensibly incensed by a movie critical of Islam they say insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Before being appointed ambassador in January 2012, Stevens had hailed the uprising of the Libyan people and served, risking his life, as a U.S. envoy to the opposition during that fight. In a State Department video introducing his appointment, Stevens expressed a desire to “work together to build a free, democratic prosperous Libya.”
“I was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights,” he says in the video. Pictures of Libyan protests during the uprising flash across the screen interspersed with photos of a grinning Stevens greeting Libyan citizens.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid tribute in her statement:
I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago. He spoke eloquently about his passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people. 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. As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. 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. Chris was committed to advancing America’s values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger.
Raised in Northern California, Stevens spent two years in Morocco after graduating from University of California Berkeley, teaching English in the Peace Corps, It was then he said he “fell in love with this part of the world.” His 20-year foreign service career took him on several tours to Libya, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. He spoke Arabic and French.
On April 5 2011 he arrived for his second tour in Libya. Stevens served as special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council where he was sent to rebel headquarters in Benghazi, with the intention of forging stronger links with the Interim Transitional National Council, and intending to gain a better understanding of the various factions fighting the Gadhafi regime.
Stevens’ reports back to the US government are believed to have encouraged the American support of the rebel council, formally carried out in July 2011 by Obama administration.
Upon his arrival in April last year, Stevens became the highest-ranking US representative to travel to Libya since the uprising began.
Two of the Americans killed in Libya yesterday have yet to be identified because their families are still being notified, but Clinton paid tribute to Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith:
Sean Smith was a husband and a father of two, who joined the Department ten years ago. Like Chris, Sean was one of our best. Prior to arriving in Benghazi, he served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and most recently The Hague.
President Obama said Stevens’ “legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice.”
Stevens is the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in an attack since 1979.