U.S. ambassador killed in Libya

J. Christopher Stevens spoke to local media at the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi in 2011. J. Christopher Stevens spoke to local media at the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi in 2011. Ben Curtis/AP file photo

U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff were killed in an attack in Benghazi on Wednesday, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

President Obama strongly condemned the attacks, while also calling on embassies across the globe to increase security.

"Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers," Obama said. "They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives."

The Americans were targeted in an attack in their car, trying to move to a safer venue away from the violent protests that erupted at the U.S. Consulate, Reuters reported. Stevens died of suffocation, while the three other personnel were killed by gunshot wounds, CBS News reports.

Obama praised the work of Stevens, saying he was "a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States."

"Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi," Obama said. "As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya'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."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Stevens a dedicated member of the foreign service, saying he "spoke eloquently about his passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people."

"As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi," she said. "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."

Clinton confirmed that one of those killed was Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer. Smith worked in the foreign service for 21 years.

"Sean Smith was a husband and a father of two, who joined the Department ten years ago," Clinton said in a statement. "Like Chris, Sean was one of our best. Prior to arriving in Benghazi, he served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal, and most recently The Hague."

She said the State Department is waiting to release the names of the other two killed until their next of kin is notified. She also further condemned the violence.

"All the Americans we lost in yesterday’s attacks made the ultimate sacrifice," Clinton said. "We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future."

The Libyan official told Reuters the U.S. has transported the bodies on a military plane to Tripoli to fly them back to the U.S.

The protests broke out due to outrage linked to an American video posted online that is offensive Muslims. In his statement, the president rejected the denigration of religious beliefs, but condemned the violent response.

"While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants," Obama said.

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