Libyan officials on Wednesday condemned Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi that resulted in the death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
Mohamed al-Megariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, apologized to the U.S. and Americans for the attack.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim Keib said the attack was a criminal act that would not go unpunished. He blamed it on supporters of the ousted Moammar Gadhafi regime.
In a message posted on his Twitter account, Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said the incident was an “attack on America, Libya and free people everywhere.”
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens died of severe asphyxiation caused by smoke inhalation.
In phone interviews on Wednesday, Benghazi residents provided details of the events leading up to the attack that suggested heavily armed militants had hijacked what was initially a peaceful protest outside the U.S. diplomatic mission.
The demonstrators were protesting a film that insulted Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. They were quickly joined by separate group of men armed with rocket-propelled grenades.
The deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission cast a pall of sorrow over Benghazi.
Malik Sahad, a musician who lives close to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, said the attack was not a reflection of Libyans’ feelings toward the U.S.
Mr. Sahad spent the morning walking around his neighborhood talking with other residents.
“The mood is one of remorse and sorrow,” he said in a phone interview. “People are ashamed and angry. They are no longer talking about the film that provoked these protests, they are talking about the shameful incident that happened last night.”
Mr. Sahad received a phone call from a friend who called to offer her condolences.
“She spoke as though someone from my family had died,” he said. “That’s how the people of Benghazi feel about Ambassador Stevens. He was one of us.”
Libyan officials have not been able to rein in militia groups that continue to operate across the country months after the end of the revolution that ended Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.
Human rights groups accuse some of these militias of behaving act as if they are above the law and of torturing detainees suspected of being loyal to Gadhafi’s family. Gadhafi was killed in the custody of rebels in his hometown Sirte on Oct. 20.
Dr. Esam Omeish, U.S.-based director of the Libyan Emergency Taskforce that was set up during last year’s revolution, said the Libyan government has performed poorly on ensuring security in the country.
“The vacuum in terms of security is becoming palpable in Libya and dangerously so,” he said.
Radical Islamist elements have become emboldened by the government’s failure to check their rise.
Last month, gangs destroyed Sufi shrines and libraries across the country, including in Tripoli and the western city of Misrata.