Kerry honors guard killed in U.S. Embassy attack

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives an award to Yasemin Akarsu, widow of U.S. Embassy guard Mustafa Akarsu, during a memorial ceremony for Akarsu at the embassy in Ankara, Turkey, March 1, 2013.
AP Photo

ANKARA, Turkey Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute Friday to the "selfless sacrifice" of a local guard at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey's capital city of Ankara one month after his death in a terrorist attack on the U.S. post.

The Turkish national, Mustafa Akarsu, was employed by the embassy and prevented a suicide bomber from getting past the back gate of the post.

Teary-eyed staffers gathered inside the main entrance of the embassy for a ceremony to honor Akarsu. Kerry called the moment "heartbreaking and healing."

He also noted that the Feb. 1 attack happened on the same day that he was sworn into office as Hillary Clinton's successor. Kerry said the attack remains at the front of his mind.

"I carry the memory of that courage in every embassy I have walked into since, and I will in the days ahead," Kerry said. He is on the fifth stop of his first foreign visit as secretary of state. The 11-day, nine-city tour began in Europe and will continue through the Middle East.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said that the secretary will discuss counterterrorism in meetings Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The official said the U.S. and Turkey have a "common challenge facing terrorism" and that the leaders will discuss not only the embassy attack but also the threats posed by al Qaeda and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.

At Friday's ceremony, Kerry presented Akarsu's widow and two children with the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service for exceptional bravery and commitment. Jefferson was America's first secretary of state.

A Marine guard then presented the Akarsu family with the American flag that was flying over the embassy on the day of attack.

Acknowledging that Akarsu protected the lives of embassy workers, Kerry praised the guard, noting that "Americans that serve overseas never serve alone."

America's chief diplomat said that "our world is dangerous but our work is indispensable."

He listed Akarsu as one of the many local guards who have given their lives in attacks on U.S. Embassies, including in Beirut in 1983; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998; Sanaa, Yemen, in 2008; and "posts in every region of the world."

Kerry did not mention the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. While local Libyan militiamen died in that attack, the local guards employed by the U.S. mission reportedly abandoned their posts while five U.S. diplomatic security guards tried to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens. Four Americans, including Stevens, were killed in the attack.

The secretary also presented Heroism Awards to the two surviving Turkish guards who were injured in the Feb. 1 attack.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.