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Cairo/Washington: Hundreds of angry protesters set on fire the US consulate in Libya's Benghazi city killing one diplomat, hours after a mob attacked American embassy in Egypt to protest a film deemed offensive to Islam.
Armed men attacked US consulate offices in Libya's second biggest city Benghazi yesterday, and fought with security forces. The gunmen then set the US mission office on fire, killing one diplomat.
In a statement today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the death of a US diplomat, who was not identified, and condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate.
"As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack," Clinton said in a statement.
"In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide," she added. Clinton called Libyan President to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya.
The Benghazi incident followed a protest in neighboring Egypt where protesters surrounded the US embassy in Cairo, some of them climbing up the walls and tearing down the American flag, to protest the film by a US-based Coptic group. US officials were, however, reluctant to establish any link between the two incidents.
"We cannot confirm any connection between these incidents," a senior State Department official said in response to questions linking the two incidents. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland also confirmed the attack on Benghazi consulate.
"We are working with the Libyans now to secure the compound. We condemn in strongest terms this attack on our diplomatic mission," Nuland said.
Nuland also confirmed that the US embassy in Cairo had been breached and the American flag tore down. "We had some people breach the wall, take the flag down and replace it," she said.
Asked if the protesters had replaced the US flag with an al-Qaeda flag, Nuland said she was not sure. "What I heard was that it was replaced with a... plain black flag. But I may not be correct in that," she said.
"In Cairo, we can confirm that Egyptian police have now removed the demonstrators who had entered our Embassy grounds earlier today," Nuland said.
The protesters in Cairo turned out in response to a call by hardline Salafist leader Wesam Abdel-Wareth to protest the low-production movie said to be offensive to Prophet Mohammad.
The film has been produced by expatriate members of Egypt's Christian minority resident in the US. The movie is said to be an old one, but a television channel took up the issue a couple of days back, fanning the fire.
The protesters brought down the US flag at the mission, burnt it and attempted to replace it by a black flag inscribed with: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet".
The protesters were from different backgrounds, most of them from the hardline Salafi movement, but some of them were supporters of the Mina Daniel leftist movement, and the increasingly politicised football hooligans known as the Ultras. They were also joined in by women wearing veils.
"The black flag, which hangs atop a ladder inside the compound, is adorned with white characters that read, 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger,' an emblem often used in al-Qaeda propaganda," CNN reported.
The protests came on a day when the US was observing the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Egyptian activist Wael Ghoneim wrote on his Facebook page that "attacking the US embassy on September 11 and raising flags linked to al-Qaeda will not be understood by the American public as a protest over the film about the Prophet.
"Instead, it will be received as a celebration of the crime that took place on September 11," he said. The attacks on US missions in two countries raised fresh questions about Washington's relations with the Arab world.