By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The United States condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous and shocking attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel, President Barack Obama said this morning.
Also killed were Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two others whose names are being withheld until State Department officials notify their families.
“We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats,” Obama said. “I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake -- we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”
At the Defense Department, Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Wendy Snyder said, “We are saddened by this tragic loss at the Embassy in Benghazi. We are working closely with the State Department and standing by to provide whatever support that may be needed.”
Standing in the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the president said the United States, since its founding, has been a nation that respects all faiths.
“We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he added. “But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence -- none. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
Already, Obama said, many Libyans have joined the United States in rejecting the acts. The attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya, he added.
“Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans,” Obama said. “Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens' body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.”
Obama said it’s especially tragic that Stevens died in Benghazi, because it is a city that the fallen diplomat had helped to save.
“At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi,” the president said. “With characteristic skill, courage and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya.”
When Moammar Gadhafi’s regime came to an end, Stevens served as U.S. ambassador to the new Libya and worked tirelessly to support the young democracy, Obama said.
“I think both Secretary Clinton and I have relied deeply on his knowledge of the situation on the ground there,” he added. “He was a role model to all who worked with him and to the young diplomats who aspire to walk in his footsteps.”
Stevens and his colleagues died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war, the president said.
“Today the loss of these four Americans is fresh, but our memories of them linger on,” he said. “I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores and in the hearts of those who love them back home.”
Freedom is only sustained “because there are people who are willing to fight for it, stand up for it and, in some cases, lay down their lives for it,” Obama said.
“We mourn for more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America,” the president said. “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake -- justice will be done.”
After making his statement, a White House official said, the president visited the State Department, meeting with employees there to express his solidarity with U.S. diplomats stationed around the world.
“At this difficult time,” the official said, “he will give thanks for the service and sacrifices that our civilians make, and pay tribute to those who were lost.”