The United States Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other embassy staff were killed after an armed mob attacked and set fire to the US consulate building in Benghazi late on Tuesday.
The attack was in protest against an amateur film deemed offensive to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The armed men shot at buildings and threw handmade bombs into the compound. The Libyan doctor who treated Stevens in hospital said he had died of severe asphyxiation, apparently from smoke inhalation, with no other injuries, and that he had tried for 90 minutes to revive him.
He was the only American brought into the Benghazi Medical Centre and initially nobody realised he was the ambassador, Ziad Abu Zeid told the Associated Press.
The California-born ambassador who was paying a short visit to the city when the consulate came under attack died along with two US security personnel who were accompanying him, security sources told Al Jazeera.
Another consulate employee, whose nationality could not immediately be confirmed, was also killed.
Reuters reports that between 12 and 17 people were injured in the attack.
At a press conference, Libyan Deputy Interior Minister, Wanis al Sharif blamed loyalists of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi for the attack, while stressing that the US should have removed its personnel from the country when news of the film’s release broke.
“They are to blame simply for not withdrawing their personnel from the premises, despite the fact that there was a similar incident when Abu Yahya al-Libi (al-Qaeda second-in-command and Libyan citizen) was killed. It was necessary that they take precautions. It was their fault that they did not take the necessary precautions,” he said.
Sharif said that those who attacked the consulate were more heavily armed that the Libyan security services tasked with protecting the consulate.
Mustafa Abu Shagur, the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister, condemned the “cowardly act of attacking the US consulate and the killing of the ambassador and the other diplomats”.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice the killers of Stevens.
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, President Obama said, “Make no mistake. Justice will be done.”
He said he condemned “in the strongest possible terms the outrageous and shocking” attack.
“It is especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save,” he added, praising the dead ambassador for his work in Libya after the overthrow of the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
President Obama also ordered increased security at US diplomatic posts around the world.
In a statement on Wednesday Obama said, “I have directed my administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe,”
Stevens, an Arabic speaker who loved Libya and understood it deeply, was the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.
The consulate was one of several American diplomatic missions in the Middle East to face protests on Tuesday after the release online of a film mocking Islam and depicting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womaniser and ruthless killer.
Benghazi was the cradle of Libya’s revolution last year against Muammar Gaddafi. The rebels’ military victory was made possible by a NATO air campaign against regime targets, supported by the US.