Fifty people arrested in Libya over ambassador death
Libya’s parliament chief announced in an interview the arrests of some 50 people over the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens in an attack he said was planned by foreigners.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said, meanwhile, the American military has no major plans to bolster its forces in the Middle East despite a week of violent protests targeting diplomatic outposts, including at the US consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi in which Stevens died.
“The number reached about 50,” Mohammed al-Megaryef, president of the Libyan National Congress, told CBS News.
Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Tuesday when suspected Islamic militants fired on the US consulate in Benghazi with rocket-propelled grenades and set it ablaze.
Mr Megaryef said “a few” of those who joined in the attack were foreigners, who had entered Libya “from different directions, some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria.”
“The others are affiliates and maybe sympathisers,” he added.
Mr Megaryef said the government has learned the attack was not the result of a spontaneous outburst of anger over a US-made anti-Islam movie which has triggered sometimes deadly protests in the Arab and Muslim world.
“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago. And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he told CBS.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has said in a statement the attack was in revenge for the killing of the terror network’s deputy leader Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi in a drone strike in June, and called for more attacks on US targets.
US officials have already deployed counter-terrorism Marine units to Libya and Yemen and stationed two destroyers off the North African coast.
Mr Panetta told reporters before arriving in Tokyo on an Asian tour that with a substantial force already deployed in the region and now boosted by the extra Marine units, the military has the ability to respond as necessary to protect American diplomats.
“We do have a major presence in the region,” he said.
“Having said that we’ve enhanced that with FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) teams and others so that if they are requested, they can respond more quickly.”
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti on Saturday flatly rejected a US request to send special forces to protect the Khartoum embassy, the official SUNA news agency said, quoting his office.
Hours later, US officials announced Washington would evacuate all non-essential staff and family members from Sudan and Tunisia, and warned US citizens against travel to the two countries.
– ‘Killings not warranted’ –
Despite Tehran’s hostility to Washington and its own condemnation of the movie, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the killing of Stevens was unjustified.
“Definitely this did not warrant killing,” Gen Jafari told a news conference in Tehran. He said that “due to their (protesters’) anger, this incident happened.”
In cities across the Muslim world protesters have since vented their fury at the Innocence of Muslims – an amateur film produced in the United States – by targeting symbols of US influence ranging from embassies and schools to fast food chains.
Although the US government itself has condemned the film, protests erupted again overnight, with hundreds of students pouring into the streets of Kabul shouting anti-American slogans, as the Bangladesh government condemned the film as “reprehensible” and New Delhi said it was “offensive.”
Belgian police said they detained 230 people in the northern city of Antwerp after clashes at a demonstration against an the film.
With Muslim anger boiling, AQAP issued a call for more violence against US diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa, and urged attacks on American interests in the West, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
AQAP, Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni offshoot, did not claim direct responsibility for the deadly attack in Benghazi.
But it said the killing of Libi in a June drone strike in Pakistan “increased the enthusiasm and determination of the sons of (Libyan independence hero) Omar al-Mukhtar to take revenge upon those who attack our Prophet,” according to SITE.
In Afghanistan, heavily armed Taliban fighters on Friday stormed a strongly fortified air base in Helmand province where Britain’s Prince Harry is deployed, killing two US Marines in an assault the militia said was to avenge the anti-Islam film.
A NATO spokesman revealed that six US fighter jets and three refuelling stations were destroyed and six aircraft hangars damaged in the attack.
Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messer conceded that the scale of damage, carried out when more than a dozen attackers in US Army uniforms and armed with guns, rockets and suicide vests stormed the airfield, was unprecedented.
A total of 17 people have died in violence linked to the film, including the four Americans killed in Benghazi, 11 protesters who died as police battled to defend US missions from mobs in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen, and the two US soldiers in Afghanistan.