J. Christopher Stevens
J. Christopher Stevens Photo by AFP
Text size
related tags

"They got the wrong guy," said a Jerusalem-based friend of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the 52-year-old U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed Wednesday in Benghazi.

The first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, Stevens and three bodyguards were slain by an angry mob firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the U.S. Consulate in protest of an obscure film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.

The attack in Libya came hours after Egyptian protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and temporarily replacing it with a black Islamic banner.

"If there was someone who cared about the Arab and Muslim world, it was Chris," said the friend who, like others interviewed, asked not to be identified.

Fellow diplomats, along with UN and NGO workers who knew Stevens from the years he served as the political section chief at the Jerusalem Consulate, all attested to the American's deep connection to and respect for Islam and the Arab world.

"It's extraordinarily ironic that he should be killed in this manner," said one friend. "He spoke Arabic, he was dedicated to the cause of the Arabs."

"He was a wonderful, generous, conscientious fellow, and a diplomat's diplomat," said another friend. "The sort of diplomat who, while you never knew what he was thinking, you could tell he really cared."

Stevens had spent practically his entire career in the Middle East, or working on Middle East issues. In addition to his posting in Jerusalem between 2004-2006, Stevens also held posts in Damascus, Cairo and Riyadh. In Washington, Stevens served as Director of the Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs, as an Iran desk officer, and as a staff assistant in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

He arrived in Libya this May as Ambassador after two earlier stints in that country: as the Special Representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011, during the Libyan revolution, and previously, as the Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007 to 2009.

A Californian who graduated from Berkeley and briefly worked as a trade lawyer, Stevens set on his life's path as a diplomat in the Arab-speaking world after teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco's Atlas mountains.

U.S. President Barack Obama described Stevens as "a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States."