OTTAWA — Canada is reviewing the security situation at its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in the wake of the “senseless” killing of American diplomats in the eastern city of Benghazi, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Thursday.
“As you would expect, we’ll re-evaluate the environment as we regularly do for our personnel in Tripoli,” Baird said Wednesday from India, where he was on an official visit.
Baird offered Canada’s strong condemnation and deep regret at the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, and three of his staff at the hands of “extremists” who appeared to be part of a violent protest outside a U.S. diplomatic post in eastern Libya.
“It’s an attack on diplomacy,” he said, adding that Foreign Affairs continually updates the security environment for Canadian personnel.
“We call upon Libyan authorities to take all necessary measures to protect diplomatic premises in accordance with Libya’s international obligations. We also urge Libyan officials to ensure the extremists responsible are brought to swift justice.”
Richard Colvin, the Canadian diplomat whose testimony about the torture of Canada’s Afghan detainees caused a political firestorm in 2009, was an old friend of Stevens.
They met when both were on missions to Jerusalem a decade ago, and reconnected more recently while they were both working in Washington, D.C.
“He was an excellent representative of the State Department, a knowledgeable and dedicated colleague but also a wonderful human being, low-key, laid-back, charming, thoughtful, bright and funny,” Colvin wrote from Ottawa in a personal letter of sympathy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Chris personified the professionalism of the U.S. foreign service. He was a beautiful American. I was delighted to see him assume such a prominent role in Libya, and profoundly sad to learn of his death.”
Stevens and three colleagues — including Sean Smith, who formerly served in the U.S. consulate in Montreal — were killed when a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff.
“We grieve particularly for the death of information management officer Sean Smith,” David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in a statement.
“He and his family were a part of our mission family, and we extend to them our deepest condolences and sympathy.”
Smith was remembered fondly by one former State Department colleague as a devoted family man.
“He was a friend from the consulate and our children played often together when we were in Montreal,” said the fellow diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, calling Smith “a devoted father of his two children and a generous and committed U.S. diplomat.”
Baird visited Benghazi in June 2011, shortly after the uprising in the north African country that resulted in the ouster and death of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Canada has no diplomatic post there.
Baird returned to Tripoli in October 2011 to reopen the Canadian embassy, which had been closed for nine months after Canada joined NATO countries in launching air attacks on Libya to back rebel fighters trying to remove Gadhafi. Canada has eight diplomats in Tripoli, including a charge d’affairs who heads the embassy.
The attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and its embassy in Cairo came days after Canada closed its embassy in Tehran, citing concern for the safety of its diplomats.
Baird reiterated that concern again Wednesday, saying the embassy building in Tehran was vulnerable to attack.
“It’s not set back from the road. It’s right on the road. The fencing wasn’t as strong as we would normally like, and that has been a concern for some time.”
The 2010 federal budget set aside $450 million over seven years for the Security Abroad Strategy to bolster security at Canada’s foreign embassies.
Last last year, Baird’s department put out a call for tenders for a $5 million contract to conduct a sweeping intelligence study of potential threats to Canada’s foreign embassies and missions.
The department planned to solicit bids from seasoned security intelligence firms to tell them about the possible threats to its diplomatic corps from terrorism, instability and natural disasters in 174 countries, including 46 major cities.
“We have been taking a comprehensive review of this and making strategic investments in various embassies, chancelleries and residences around the world,” Baird said.
“Obviously diplomats don’t sign up to be soldiers and their safety and security is a high priority. We’ve made major strides over the past 10 years of the department to meet these goals. There are areas where there is room for improvement and obviously we are seized with the importance of this.”
Canada’s diplomatic corps were deeply shaken by the January 2006 death of Glynn Berry, the country’s senior diplomat to southern Afghanistan. He was killed when his car was struck by a suicide bomber in Kandahar, an attack that killed two civilians, wounded 10 more, and left three Canadian soldiers seriously injured.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay called the attack in Benghazi “an act of violence that shocks us all.”
“Canada, of course, has a vested interest in ensuring that we see security and a greater sense of stability spread within Libya,” MacKay said.
“And we recommit ourselves and dedicate ourselves to that effort.”
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attacks and ordered increased security at American diplomatic posts around the world.
“We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done,” Obama said.
The assault occurred Tuesday night in the eastern city of Benghazi when protesters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the consulate in what officials say was an angry response to a short film that ridiculed Islam and its founder, Muhammad.
Later Wednesday, however, reports emerged that the Obama administration was investigating the possibility that the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11.
Intelligence officials said the attack on the Benghazi consulate was too co-ordinated or professional to be spontaneous, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke to The Associated Press condition of anonymity.
Clinton blamed the deaths on a “small and savage group” of militants, and said the attack should “shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world.”
Stevens is the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in an attack since 1979, when Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department updated its travel warning telling Canadians to avoid all travel to Benghazi and all non-essential travel the Libya, including Tripoli.