TRIPOLI, Libya — The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. He was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.
President Barack Obama ordered increased security to protect American diplomatic personnel around world.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi," Obama said, adding the four Americans "exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe."
Libya's interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, apologized to the United States for the attack, which he described as "cowardly." Speaking to reporters, he offered his condolences on the death of the four Americans and vowed to bring the culprits to justice and maintain his country's close relations with the United States.
The three Americans killed with Stevens were security guards, he said.
"We extend our apology to America, the American people and the whole world," el-Megarif said.
The attack in Libya came hours after Egyptian protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and temporarily replacing it with a black Islamic banner.
The brazen assaults — the first on U.S. diplomatic facilities in either country — underscored the lawlessness that has taken hold in both Egypt and Libya after revolutions ousted their autocratic secular regimes and upended the tightly controlled police state in both countries. Islamists, who were long repressed under the previous regimes, have emerged as a powerful force but new governments in both nations are struggling to achieve stability.
Egypt's police, a onetime hated force blamed for massive human rights abuses, have yet to fully take back the streets after Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February 2011.
On Tuesday, riot police stood by the embassy's walls but continued to allow protesters to climb them for several hours. The protesters, however, appeared to intentionally stick to certain limits: A few entered the embassy grounds to remove the flags and come back, but otherwise the chanting youth stayed on top of the walls without storming the compound or damaging property.
The uproar over the film also poses a new test for Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who has yet to condemn the riot outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo or say anything about the offending film. The protest was by mostly ultraconservative Islamists.
The film was produced by a California filmmaker who identifies himself as both American and Israeli, though Israeli officials said Wednesday they had no record of him as a citizen. The film was being promoted by an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts from the film dubbed into Arabic were posted on YouTube. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.