Thursday, September 13, 2012

An account of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya

An account of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya:

U.S. officials were still piecing together the day's events, which followed protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo over an anti-Islamic video. In contrast to the Cairo protest, which appeared to be spontaneous, U.S. officials said the attack in Benghazi late Tuesday might have been planned by militants who used the protests as cover.

American intelligence agencies were poring over information that could help indicate what groups may have taken part. Officials said the agencies are looking specifically at the pro-al Qaeda group Ansar al Sharia but cautioned they didn't have solid evidence.

Nearly 24 hours after the start of the shooting, officials struggled to explain what transpired through hours of chaos and terror inside the darkened consulate and a nearby annex. They warned that their preliminary version of events could change as more information became available.

The gang first arrived in the neighborhood around 8 p.m. local time carrying weapons including rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles, said Ali Ben Saud, owner of the villa leased to the U.S. for the consulate.

A Libyan doctor said he and several neighbors tried to get the gang, which he estimated at 200, to leave as they marched toward the U.S. compound. "We told them to leave our homes alone and one [of the militants] replied, 'The Americans are infidels and we are going to finish them,' " the doctor said. "Many of us then fled because the shooting started."

Said Mr. al-Arghoubi, the neighborhood resident: "They didn't come to talk. They came to fight." The first shots were fired at around 10 p.m. local time, or 4 p.m. Eastern time, according to a preliminary U.S. account.

The attackers quickly gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it afire. A senior administration official said three people were inside the compound at the time: Mr. Stevens; Sean Smith, a foreign service information-management officer; and a U.S. regional security officer.

As the three tried to leave the burning building, they became separated from each other in heavy smoke. The regional security officer, whose name hadn't been disclosed by late Wednesday, made it outside, and then he and other security personnel rushed back into the burning building to try to rescue Mr. Stevens and Mr. Smith. They found Mr. Smith, already dead.

They were unable to find the ambassador before being forced to flee the building because of the heavy flames and continuing small-arms fire.

Mr. Obama was told Tuesday night that Mr. Stevens was unaccounted for.

At around midnight, the mission annex came under fire. Two U.S. diplomats were killed during that attack and two others were wounded.

According to Mr. Ben Saud, the landowner, Libyan security guards jumped into the compound and pulled Mr. Stevens from the burning and smoke-filled building at around 1 a.m. local time. Libyans then drove him to Benghazi Central Hospital, where the staff tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

At about 2:30 a.m. local time, Libyan security forces regained control of the situation, according to the preliminary U.S. account.

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