U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three embassy staff were killed as they fled a consulate building that was stormed by gunmen blaming America for a film they believe insults the Prophet Mohammad.
Gunmen had attacked and set fire to the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi late Tuesday evening, Reuters reported. The U.S. embassy in Cairo was also attacked.
President Barack Obama condemned the attacks Wednesday morning and said he had directed his administration to bolster security for U.S. personnel in Libya and at diplomatic posts around the globe.
"Make no mistake. We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
Stevens was trying to escape the consulate when he and the others were killed.
"The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets in their direction," a Libyan official told Reuters.
The violence came as the United States marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Yesterday was already a painful day – 9/11, then last night we learned news of this attack," he added. "As Americans we must never, never forget our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it."
The attacks were a response to a trailer for the low-budget and little-seen "Innocence of Muslims" (pictured) directed and produced by Israeli-American California real-estate developer Sam Bacile. it portrays the Muslim Prophet Mohammad as a grotesque caricature with “young girl” wives. The 14-minute trailer was originally uploaded to YouTube in July.
Media reports said that Bacile had gone into hiding as the violence escalated.
On Tuesday, angry demonstrators stormed the embassy in Cairo and ripped apart an American flag. Gunmen with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked U.S. consulate offices in Benghazi and set them on fire to protest the anti-Islam scenes they called “blasphemous,” Reuters said.
“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
While he deplored the attacks in Libya, President Obama's White House rival Mitt Romney also took the opportunity to slam the administration's foreign policies. The Republican presidential nominee said President Obama erred by seeming to sympathize with the attackers over the victims of the attack.
"It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Romney said. "When our grounds are being attacked and breached … the first response of the United States must be outrage."
Across the region, tensions boiled over.
"Islamic, Islamic. The right of our prophet will not die,” chanted protesting crowds, according to the Associated Press.
Bacile said in an interview with the AP that those angry at the film objected to his portraying of Mohammad onscreen.
"But we have to open the door," he told AP. "After 9/11, everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Mohammad."
Islam forbids images of Mohammad. The Comedy Central show "South Park" also drew threats recently when the show's creators hinted that they might portray Mohammad.
Bacile's English-language video was given Arabic subtitles, but Bacile said he didn't know who added them.
Watch the video below. (Warning: Contains portrayal of Mohammad, as well as horrible writing, acting, and production value.)