MIDEAST FURY: U.S. ENVOY KILLED
-U.S. AMBASSADOR KILLED…It's the most dramatic example of the nightmares that have come with the elation of the so-called "Arab Spring." U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans have been killed in that attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters - apparently angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The circumstances of the killings are still unclear: One report has Ambassador Stevens killed when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff; another says he was killed when he was being driven away from the consulate building to a safer location; a third says he died in the building - of smoke inhalation. We do know that this was not really a "protest" so much as an armed assault on the U.S. facility; the attackers were firing gunshots and rocket propelled grenades. This followed protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo through Tuesday. The Libyan Prime Minister told reporters, "around 05:00 pm, I was advised that there was a plane in Tripoli ready to evacuate the US nationals. We secured the US nationals and accommodated them in an safe area near the embassy , there they was an unexpected breach in the security which led to the killing of two other US nationals and wounded 12 or 14 others."
-QUESTIONS…As Martha RADDATZ notes: "Why in the world, on September 11th , in a country that remains volatile and infiltrated, did they not have an evacuation plan for that consulate and the Ambassador? We do not know how he died, but given the pictures that are circulating this was clearly out of control. To have an Ambassador "unaccounted for" for hours, carried away by a mob and then ending up dead is appalling. This was not Blackhawk Down…this was a consulate where security should have been in place. And the other American dying of smoke inhalation? Security is never perfect, and things can obviously happen, but this sure looks bad to me. Is it because we were sensitive about a military presence? A low profile? Meanwhile Luis MARTINEZ reports that a day later, a Marine FAST (Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team) team has been sent to Libya. Typically these teams are sent in as reinforcements or as a quick reaction force to assist U.S. embassies and their personnel that are facing threats. Not sure how many have been sent to Libya, but usually it's a platoon of 40 Marines that are dispatched.
-EGYPT: MORE TO COME?…After nearly 24 hours of official silence on this - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has called for nationwide protests in response to the film. Of course the Brotherhood is now the governing party in Egypt - not just a protest movement anymore. But this could heat up the streets - again.
-THE FILM & THE FILMMAKER…The violence was came on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and were inspired by Egyptian media reports about a 14-minute trailer for the video, called "Innocence of Muslims," that was released on the WebAn Israeli filmmaker based in California went into hiding Tuesday after his movie attacking Islam's prophet Muhammad sparked angry assaults by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, where one American was killed. The film' promoter, Florida Pastor Terry Jones, was mentioned in an Ayman Al-Zawahiri message sent out in conjunction with the 9-11 anniversary. The video gained international attention when Jones began promoting it along with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as "International Judge Muhammad Day." In a statement Tuesday, Jones called the film "an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam" and said it "further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad." Speaking to the AP by phone from an undisclosed location, the film's writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
-THE VICTIMS… Ambassador Stevens arrived in Tripoli in May 2012, as United States Ambassador to Libya, after serving two previous terms in Libya since 2007 as an American envoy before and after the 2011 revolution that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Footage of him there. This moving statement from Secretary of State Clinton: "A 21-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Stevens died last night from injuries he sustained in the attack on our office in Benghazi. I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago. He spoke eloquently about his passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people. This assignment was only the latest in his more than two decades of dedication to advancing closer ties with the people of the Middle East and North Africa which began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation. He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started. Chris was committed to advancing America's values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger. Sean Smith was a husband and a father of two, who joined the Department ten years ago. Like Chris, Sean was one of our best. Prior to arriving in Benghazi, he served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal, and most recently The Hague. All the Americans we lost in yesterday's attacks made the ultimate sacrifice. We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future." Our Terry MORAN notes: "I met with Stevens in Benghazi on first trip to Libya during the civil war last year, just after he was named envoy to the opposition. He was so idealistic about the revolution". The BBC's Allan Little interviewed the US Ambo when the embassy reopened in Tripoli last year. I will dig out the interview, as well as the material Drucie shot when we were in Benghazi pre-election this year.
-NEW LIBYAN REGIME REACTS…Libyan Prime Minister Mohammed Magarief apologized to the U.S. for the attacks in Benghazi. He notes that attacks came on eleventh anniversary of 9/11 and adds: This "criminal act will not go unpunished."
-ROMNEY & THE ATTACKS…This from Jake TAPPER: "Before news spread that four Americans had been killed in Benghazi, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney yesterday issued a statement saying: "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." This is an attack rooted in falsehood, and ABC News is not doing its job if we just print it without pointing out that: a) The statement from the US Embassy in Cairo "condemn(ing) the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims" was issued BEFORE the attacks on the diplomatic missions. This is a matter of chronology. (Though I agree that clocks have a long-established liberal bias.) b) This is less important, but an Obama administration official tells ABC News that "no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn't reflect the views of the U.S. government." There's another matter here, and that's the propriety of a would-be commander-in-chief issuing a statement such as this before all the dust has settled. But that's for the Romney campaign to respond to and opinion-makers to judge…"
-POPE TO MIDDLE EAST…As the anger and angst swirl in Cairo and Benghazi - Pope Benedict is preparing for a trip to Lebanon. As Phoebe NATANSON reports from Rome, at his weekly public audience in St. Peter's square this morning, the pontiff was talking about peace in the Middle East ahead of the trip - he leaves for Lebanon Friday and will be in Beirut through Sunday. One of the themes surrounding the visit? Strained relations between Christians and Muslims in the region.
-HEAVY FIGHTING IN ALEPPO…Activists are reporting heavy fighting in Syria's largest city as battles intensify ahead of a visit by the new international peace envoy. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees say the fighting Wednesday was mostly near the government-held Aleppo International Airport. Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Hassan says the airport, which includes a military base, is widely used by the regime to bomb rebel-held areas in Aleppo.
-"MY LIFE IS JUST THE WOUNDED AND THE DEAD"…So says a doctor at a hospital in Aleppo to the AP. Most patients are civilians wounded by falling buildings and exploding shells.
-TOP GERMAN COURT CLEARS WAY FOR RESCUE FUND…Could be good news for the markets: Germany's high court has rejected calls to block Europe's permanent rescue fund, paving the way in a much-anticipated ruling for its ratification by the country's president. The taxpayer-backed fund is crucial to the eurozone's debt crisis resolution efforts because it can loan money to governments that can't borrow otherwise, and markets had been nervously awaiting the ruling. Immediate reaction: sighs of relief Wednesday, and investors sending the euro above $1.29 for the first time in four months.
-"FRAU NEIN" SAYS YES…From The Washington Post: "Known as the 'Iron Frau,' German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to be viewed during Europe's debt crisis as an unemotional leader hellbent on cruel austerity and whose favorite word was 'no.' But as she quickly, if reluctantly, emerges as Europe's most influential politician, Merkel has added a new response to her repertoire: 'yes.' In both words and deeds, Merkel has in recent weeks signaled a willingness to embrace more-radical steps in the race to save the euro while sounding a more conciliatory note on the plight of Germany's troubled neighbors. Her newfound pragmatism, observers say, could prove decisive in resolving a debt crisis that will mark its third anniversary next month. Political insiders here say Merkel's shift comes in part because the level of the threat to the euro, and thus to Germany's own economic ascent, crystallized with the worsening of the crisis in Italy and Spain early in the summer…"
With all the swirling stories about President Obama's alleged snub to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - and Netanyahu's harsh words for the U.S. over "red lines" for Iran - we get this from our Jake TAPPER: "Just to be clear, when told that an Israeli official said the Israelis offered to come down to DC for a meeting since Obama/Netanahu did not overlap sufficiently in NYC for a meeting there, a WH official says that's NOT the case…that there was no offer to come down. Believe who you want to believe, this Obama/Netanyahu relationship is like the couple you quit inviting to your dinner parties because all they do is fight…"
CHINA MYSTERY, CHINA WOES
Good take on the current "Where's Xi" story from USA Today: "Recent scandals and the disappearance from public sight of the man who is supposed to inherit the presidency have rumors swirling that the Communist Party's once-a-decade leadership change may not go off as planned. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that he had no information about the status of the leader-in-waiting, Vice President Xi Jinping, who dropped from sight 11 days ago and has canceled a series of meetings with foreign visitors. Xi, 59, has not appeared on state-run media during his absence and canceled a meeting last week with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Internet explanations for the absence range from a swimming injury to an ailment that paralyzed his face…"
MAJOR KARACHI FIRE
From Habibullah KHAN in Pakistan: The death toll from a pair of devastating factory fires that broke out in Pakistan's two biggest cities - Karachi and Lahore - rose to 216 people on Wednesday, many of whom perished because they were unable to escape buildings that lacked emergency exits and basic safety equipment such as alarms and sprinklers. Such safety issues are common in Pakistan, where many factories are set up illegally in the country's densely populated cities, and owners often pay officials bribes to look the other way. The number of deaths from the two fires that broke out Tuesday night could trigger calls for better oversight of industrial safety.
AMANDA KNOX'S EX-BOYFRIEND BREAKS SILENCE
Raffaele Sollecito has written a book, "Honour Bound: My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox." In it, the Italian maintains his innocence but admits he and Knox acted erratically following the death of Knox's British roommate Meredith Kercher, raising police suspicion. Their public displays of affection outside the murder scene and Knox's cartwheels turned the spotlight of attention on them. Sollecito writes that he met Knox at a classical music concert before spending the night together, one week before the killing.
THE CAMBRIDGES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA - AT LEAST "THINKING" ABOUT CHILDREN…
The Cambridges are still turning heads on their second day of their Diamond Jubilee tour of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Today, the future king and queen are scheduled to plant a tree, visit a Rolls Royce aircraft factory, a school and a local neighborhood, attend a reception and watch a cultural performance showcasing the three main ethnic groups in Singapore, the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. The Duke of Cambridge gave a direct answer to a question by a young member of the public in Singapore, where he and Kate are continuing their royal tour to mark Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. A little boy asked William how many children he'd like, and his answer was that he was thinking about having two. He and Kate were also asked what superpowers they would like if they could have them, and William told the children he would choose invisibility. Kate said she'd choose the same so her husband could not sneak up on her. Bob WOODRUFF is on the trip.