Local News

Raleigh doctor, former ambassador reflect on Libyan attack

Posted September 12, 2012 6:12 p.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2012 7:07 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh physician who was in Libya two weeks ago shared his memories Wednesday of the U.S. ambassador to the north African country who was killed in an embassy attack Tuesday.

Dr. Randall Williams was leading a conference in Tripoli to reform Libya's health care system and got to know Ambassador Christopher Stevens during his time there.

"You could really tell he loved the country (and) the Libyan people," Williams said. "(He was) just an incredible and gracious guy."

Williams has traveled the world to teach surgical skills to other physicians, and he said the Libyan people were warm and welcoming.

"They enjoy meeting people from the West," he said. "I was the first American some of these people had ever met, and they were excited about that."

Yet, people like Jim Cain know that excitement can change.

The Raleigh lawyer was U.S. ambassador to Denmark when a Danish newspaper published political cartoons in 2005-06 depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammed. Many Muslims considered the cartoons blasphemous, and some extremists rioted in 29 European countries.

Cain said the U.S. State Department should have been better prepared for a violent reaction after a California filmmaker posted a trailer to his movie attacking Muhammed on YouTube.

"We've got to be realistic about that and protect our embassies, assets and diplomats in ways we failed to do in Libya and Egypt this week," he said.

In Egypt, embassy security had to fire shots after dozens of people scaled the embassy walls, pulled down the U.S. flag and replaced it with a banner bearing an Islamic declaration of faith.

Cain stopped short of blaming the State Department for the attacks, but he does question the filmmaker whose work sparked the violence.

"His quote was, 'I was shocked by the violent reaction to my film,'" Cain said. "What planet has he been living on for the last decade?"

Stevens is the first U.S. ambassador in 33 years to be killed in the line of duty.

Williams said the fires, riots and deaths in Libya have seared his memory of Stevens.

"My last words to him were, 'Thank you for your service to our country,'" he said. "He was getting into the car, and he sort of laughed. My sense was, he was doing what he thought he ought to be doing, so why would I thank him."