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Ambassador Chris Stevens killed in Libya: Is Arab Spring turning against US?

The flareup of violence in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Libya shows how the Arab Spring has unleashed forces that are vehemently opposed to America and its ideals.

By Staff writer / September 12, 2012

Muslims pray outside the United States embassy in Tunis, Wednesday, Sept.12, and demand the closure of the embassy. The American embassies in Algeria and Tunisia warned of more protests Wednesday, following attacks by protesters in neighboring Libya in which the US ambassador and three embassy staff were killed.

Hassene Dridi/AP

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Washington

The killings of the US ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi Tuesday underscore how anti-authoritarian revolutions across the Arab world have unleashed extremist Islamist forces violently opposed to America and its ideals.

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“The big question for the United States, and it’s only been made more urgent by these events, is how to adjust to a world where [moderate Muslim] governments have paved the way for more extremist elements to wield their influence,” says Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington. “It’s not a good dynamic, but it’s not going away and has to be addressed.”    

The American ambassador, Chris Stevens, was killed in the same city of eastern Libya where he had set up shop as the US envoy to the Libyan rebels as they fought to oust America’s longtime nemesis, strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans were killed when a mob infuriated by an anti-Islam video made in the US stormed the Benghazi mission and burned it to the ground.

When Stevens was sworn into his post earlier this year, he spoke passionately of the job that lay ahead of building a solid bond between the US and the new Libya that had emerged from the successful revolution against Mr. Qaddafi.

But the fall of Qaddafi’s iron-fisted regime also set free small but growing bands of Islamist extremists who were ready to take advantage of the new freedoms and the slackened security restrictions made possible by the change of government.

Already during the fighting against Qaddafi, the US was concerned about the presence in Libya and across North Africa of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. But Tuesday’s attack appears to have been instigated by another organization, Ansar al-Sharia, whose followers adhere to the extremely conservative Salafi movement that rejects Western influence and demands a return to strict Muslim practices of past centuries.

Salafi forces appeared to be behind Tuesday’s violent protests at the US Embassy in Cairo as well as the Benghazi attack. The armed mobs were expressing their fury over an amateurish anti-Islamic video that denigrates the prophet Mohammed. The video was made last year in California by someone claiming to be an Israeli-American real estate developer.

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