Wire services and reporters on the ground said that Stevens and the others were fleeing the consulate when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their vehicle. Al-Jazeeraâ€™s correspondent in Benghazi said the bodies of the dead had been taken to the Benghazi airport.
Stevens, a longtime Middle East hand in the State Department, was named ambassador to Libya in May. He had worked in Libya for a number of years, both before and after the fall of slain Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. The other dead were not identified in the White House statement issued Wednesday morning.
â€œChris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States,â€ President Obama said in the statement. â€œThroughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libyaâ€™s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.â€
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack â€œin the strongest terms.â€ She said she had called Libyan President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf â€œto coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya.â€
The violence in Benghazi followed protests in neighboring Egypt, where a group of protesters scaled the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday evening and entered its outer grounds, pulled down an American flag, then tried to burn it outside the embassy walls, according to witnesses. On Wednesday morning, a sit-in of several dozen protesters continued outside the Cairo embassy.
The attacks â€” apparently prompted by outrage over an amateur, anti-Muslim film made in the United States â€” are likely to prompt a deep rethinking of U.S. policy toward both Libya and Egypt, where the United States supported Arab Spring revolutions and has been instrumental in providing financial and diplomatic support for their newly-democratic governments. Local security officials in both countries appeared slow to provide protection for the American diplomatic installations, and have issued no firm statements explaining the violence or expressing strong concern.
The film, produced in the United States and posted online, denigrated the Islamic prophet Mohammed. In her statement, Clinton said that while she â€œdeploresâ€ any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, â€œthere is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.â€