BENGHAZI, Libya - The U.S. dispatched an elite group of Marines to Tripoli on Wednesday after the mob attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Officials were investigating whether the rampage was a backlash to an anti-Islamic video with ties to Coptic Christians or a plot to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Tuesday's stunning attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi poses a daunting task for U.S. and Libyan investigators: searching for the culprits in a city rife with heavy weapons, multiple militias, armed Islamist groups and little police control.
The one-story villa that serves as the consulate was a burned-out wreck after the crowd armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades rampaged through it. Slogans of "God is great" and "Muhammad is God's Prophet" were scrawled across its scorched walls. Libyan civilians strolled freely in charred rooms with furniture and papers strewn everywhere.
A man looks at documents at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, Wednesday. The graffiti reads, 'no God but God,' ' God is great,' and 'Muhammad is the Prophet.'
President Barack Obama vowed in a Rose Garden address that the U.S. would "work with the Libyan government to bring to justice" those who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, information manager Sean Smith and two other Americans who were not identified.
Three other Americans were wounded.
Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty in 30 years.
"We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None," said Obama, who also ordered increased security at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad.
Republican Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of showing weakness in the consulate killings, but the president retorted that his rival "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later." Some in the Republican Party called Romney's remarks hasty.
The mob attack on Tuesday - the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strike in the U.S. - was initially presumed to have been a spontaneous act triggered by outrage over a movie called "Innocence of Muslims" that mocked Islam's Prophet Muhammad that was produced in the U.S. and excerpted on YouTube. The amateurish video also drew protests in Cairo, where angry ultraconservatives climbed the U.S. Embassy's walls, tore down an American flag and replaced it with an Islamic banner.
But a U.S. counterterrorism official said the Benghazi violence was "too coordinated or professional" to be spontaneous. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly.