BENGHAZI - The US Ambassador to Libya and three other staff members were killed following an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi amid protests against an American amateur film denouncing the Prophet Muhammad.

Al Jazeera reported that US Ambassador Christopher Stevens died from smoke inhalation after the consulate was set ablaze in the Libyan city where the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi began.

A spokesman for Libya's Supreme Security Committee, Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr told the pan-Arabic network today that armed militia were firing rocket-propelled grenades at the building. 

The timing of the violence coincided with memorials in the United States for the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as protests spread in Cairo and Benghazi against the news of an American film production that satirizes Islam's founding prophet.

Controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones was promoting the film Tuesday, declaring in a press conference that it was "not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam," reports the New York Times.

The Egypt Independent reported that 5,000 people protested outside of Cairo's US Embassy Tuesday evening. The daily newspaper reported that protesters tore down the American flag, replacing it with a black Islamic flag that read: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger."

Embassy officials released a statement following the attacks on the consulates, condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims [...] Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Many have criticized the statement, interpreting it as apologizing for free speech. AFP reported that Mitt Romney has slammed the Obama administration, saying: "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."

ABC News reported that the White House has tried to distance itself from the statement, citing an official as saying, "no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn't reflect the views of the U.S. government."

Stevens, 52, was confirmed as Ambassador earlier this year, having already served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt against Gaddafi. This is a video that the embassy circulated last spring introducing Stevens to Libyans.