- Dramatic images of bloody hand prints and crumbling buildings capture horror of Tuesday’s attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which fell on 11th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks
- Revealed today that sensitive documents have gone missing from compound, including names of Libyans working with American officials and oil contracts
- U.S. Department of State ‘knew of attack plans up to 48 hours ahead of time but did not tell diplomats to go on lock-down,’ sources say
- Libyan officials say four men now in custody in relation to attack
- Landlord of building says there were 400 rioters and attack could not be prevented
By Beth Stebner
PUBLISHED:19:48 EST, 13 September 2012| UPDATED:21:54 EST, 13 September 2012
In the wake of the deadly U.S. consulate attack in Libya’s second-largest city, disturbing images have emerged of the embassy, which is now little more than bloodied rubble that has been looted, torched, and trampled upon.
These images are only part of the story, as it has been revealed today that a major security breach could have been the reason that American Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with three other Americans, were killed in Tuesday’s attack.
Reports have also circulated that the attack in Benghazi was an inside job and that the U.S. Department of State knew of the attack up to 48 hours ahead of time, yet chose to do nothing.
Adding to the chaos, sensitive documents have apparently gone missing from the embassy following the attack, potentially putting many in danger.
The embassy, located in Libya’s second-largest city, was an easy target as it had not been equipped to withstand a riot, and as such, did not have bullet-proof glass or reinforced doors, reports said.
The Independent, citing diplomatic sources, has exclusively reported that the U.S. State Department had known up to 48 hours ahead of the attacks that the compounds in Benghazi and Cairo were potential targets. However, none of the diplomats in either city were given warning to go on lock-down, the paper reported.
Documents containing delicate information have been lost in the attack, the paper reported. These documents are believed to contain the names of Libyans who are also working for Americans, as well as information on oil contracts.
It is also believed that the attacks could be retribution for a drone strike which killed a top al-Qaeda official in Pakistan, who was said to be Libyan.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told MailOnline: ‘We have nothing further on the situation except what was spoken about with two state department officials at a press conference earlier today.’
Both compounds have been abandoned and the cars outside are blown out and melted from the heat of the fire. Adel Ibrahim, who owns one of the buildings now covered in bloodshed, took the Guardian’s Chris Stephen on a grim tour of the property, showing crumbled walls, singed furniture, and dried blood on the walls.
TIMELINE OF TERROR: UNFOLDING OF THE ATTACK
The consulate consists of a main building and a nearby annex, each of which are protected by local Libyan guard force, a physical perimeter barrier and a ‘robust’ American security presence inside the compounds. All times are local Benghazi time, and accounts are from officials
10:00pm Tuesday – The main consulate building begins began taking fire from unknown Libyan extremists. There are about 25 to 30 employees in the consulate and the annex at the time of the attack.
10:15 pm – Attackers gain access to main consulate building and set compound on fire. In the ensuring chaos, many escape the building, but Stevens, Smith and a regional security officer remain inside. They become separated due to heavy smoke and confusion while trying to evacuate. The security officer makes it outside and he and others from the consulate and annex go back into the building to try to rescue Stevens and Smith. They find Smith dead and pull him out but are forced by the flames, smoke and gunfire to withdraw before they can locate Stevens.
10:45pm – A group of security officers from the annex try to take the consulate building back from the attackers, but they are repelled. Everyone rescued is brought to the annex.
Midnight – The annex comes under heavy fire from the attackers. The shooting lasts more than two hours during which the other two Americans are killed and two Americans are wounded.
2:30an Wednesday – Libyan and U.S. security forces retake the annex. Officials believe that Stevens got out or was pulled out of the main consulate building during the battle for the annex and was taken to the hospital. The officials do not know if Stevens was alive when he arrived at the hospital.
6:00am – U.S. officials are told that Stevens is dead but are not able to confirm it immediately because they have not seen the body. The body is returned to U.S. personnel at the Benghazi airport at dawn.
Ibrahim witnessed Monday night’s attack first-hand, and said that nearly 400 protestors were swarming around the complex. ‘Better security would not have stopped this,’ he told the Guardian, saying that they would have needed ‘an army to stop them.’
According to the Guardian, the compound was looted after the mob gained control of it.
But during the tour, there were scraps of evidence that U.S. diplomats lived and worked at the compound – including a sign that reminded them to ‘pick up your trash before leaving.’
In addition, Libya’s deputy interior minister Wanis el-Sharef told the Associated Press today that heavily armed militants used a protest of an anti-Islam film as a cover in their deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate, screaming ‘God is great!’ as they scaled its outer walls and descended on the main building.
The official told the Associated Press it was a two-pronged attack, adding that hours after the crowd stormed the consulate Tuesday night, the militants raided a safe house in the compound just as U.S. and Libyan security arrived to evacuate the staff, suggesting infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off the militants to the location of the safe house.
The attacks were suspected to have been timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist strike in the United States, el-Sharef added, with the militants using the film protest by Libyan civilians to mask their action.
Also killed in the attack were information management officer Sean Smith, private security guard and former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty and one other American who has yet to be identified.
El-Sharef said the four were arrested from their homes on Thursday but would give no further details. He said it was too early to say if they belonged to a particular group or what their motive was.
Libya’s new prime minister, Mustafa Abu-Shakour, said authorities were looking for more suspects.
One of five private security guards at the consulate said the surprise attack began around 9:30 p.m. when several grenades that were lobbed over the outer wall exploded in the compound and bullets rained down.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Some Libyan officials have pointed the finger at a hardline Islamist militia, the Ansar al-Shariah Brigades, one of multiple Libyan militias operating in the city.
A spokesman for the group lavishly praised the assault for ‘protecting the faith and fighting for the victory of God Almighty.’ But he said the Brigades ‘did not participate as an organization. This was a popular uprising.’
Adding to the confusion surrounding the attack is that it targeted the United States, a nation that played a key role in ridding the oil-rich, mostly desert nation of dictator Muammar Gaddhafi.
Washington also took the lead in launching the months-long NATO air campaign that crippled the late leader’s forces.
Stevens was credited by most Libyans with organizing a political front made up of opposition groups to unite the uprising against Gadhafi’s 41-year rule, mediating tribal and regional disputes.
The Benghazi attack also underlined the precarious conditions in Libya nearly a year after Gaddhafi’s fall, with a weak central government, militias operating as local governments, a destabilizing proliferation of weapons, and militant groups – some inspired by al-Qaida – that are active under the government’s radar.
The crowd built at the consulate – a one-story villa surrounded by a large garden in an upscale Benghazi neighbourhood – in several stages, El-Sharef said.
First, a small group of gunmen arrived, then civilians angry over the film.
Later, heavily armed men with armoured vehicles, some with rocket-propelled grenades, joined and the numbers swelled to more than 200.
The gunmen fired into the air outside the consulate. Libyan security guarding the site pulled out because they were so out-manned.
‘We thought there was no way for the protesters to storm the compound, which had fortified walls,’ he said.
Libyan security advised the Americans to evacuate at that point, but the advice was ignored, he said. There was shooting in the air from inside the consulate compound, he said.
At this point, el-Sharef continued, the crowd stormed the compound. The consulate was looted and burned, while plainclothes security men were sent to evacuate the personnel.
Stevens probably died of asphyxiation following a grenade explosion that started a fire, el-Sharef said, echoing what the Libyan doctor to whom Stevens’ body was taken told the AP on Wednesday.
His account was corroborated by local journalist Ibrahim Hadya, who was at the scene.
He told the AP that the consulate was stormed just as the evacuation was under way, with staff members smuggled out a side door that opens to a street other than the one where the militants and protesters gathered.
Target: The embassy was vulnerable to attack because it did not have bulletproof glass, reinforced doors or other features common to embassies
Victims: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, left, apparently died of smoke inhalation; family members of Glen Doherty, right, said that he died in Tuesday’s attack
U.S. officials have said attackers broke into the main consulate building around 10:15 p.m. and set the compound on fire.
Amid the evacuation, Stevens became separated from others, and staffers and security who tried to find him were forced to flee by flames, smoke and gunfire.
After an hour, according to U.S. officials, U.S. and Libyan officials drove the attackers from the consulate.
The embassy was vulnerable to attack because it did not have bulletproof glass, reinforced doors or other features common to embassies, according to reports.
The attack has prompted President Barack Obama to demand increased security at U.S. embassies around the world.
Mr Obama, speaking a campaign event in Golden, Colorado Thursday, also vowed that the perpetrators would be punished. ‘I want people around the world to hear me,’ he said. ‘To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished.
‘I will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.’
Gunfire erupted at the Benghazi compound at 10pm on Tuesday night and with the attack coming in two waves, Libyan and American authorities did not regain control again until 2:30am.
A U.S. State Department official said Mr Stevens and his team ‘became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building.
At some time between 10.15 pm and 11.20 pm, Mr Stevens was taken from the main building by Libyans to the hospital.
But the diplomat was not seen again by his colleagues until hours later when his body was brought to the Benghazi airport from the hospital.
The attack came amid violence in Libya and Cairo, which had been sparked by a 14-minute trailer for a film called The Innocence Of Muslims posted on YouTube.
The description of events at the consulate, while preliminary, appeared to raise questions about security preparations and procedures.
A U.S. official said there were no U.S. military personnel at the mission in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
Questioned about the consulate’s security, the officials said the compound was guarded by both Libyan security and a ‘robust’ force of U.S. security officers, and that a regular security review before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had recently been completed.
‘And at that point there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured,’ said another U.S. official.
In response to the attacks, the U.S. has launched a major military manhunt to find the terrorists responsible, announcing they are sending warships to the coast of Libya in an apparent terrorist hunt, and American drone aircraft are also expected to join the search for potential targets.
The White House has said it is keeping an open mind as to the reason for Tuesday’s strike in Libya, but it is investigating whether the attack in Benghazi was planned in advance by terrorists.
The assault had initially been thought to have been a spontaneous reaction to protests over an anti-Islamic film, but there is now speculation it was a long-planned ambush on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, or a revenge attack for death of an al Qaeda official in June in Yemen.
State Department officials said the two incidents at the diplomatic missions were not related and said they believe the Benghazi violence was a ‘clearly planned attack.’
A U.S. counter-terrorism official said the Benghazi violence was ‘too co-ordinated or professional’ to be unplanned.
The attack raises questions about the future U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya, relations between Washington and Tripoli, and the unstable security situation after Gaddafi’s overthrow.
It has also raised issues about why the building, which had been attacked before, was so poorly protected.
It has been suggested that the attack was in retaliation for the death of an al Qaeda official, which was confirmed this week and that should have meant security would have been high at the U.S embassy in the troubled region.
Following the attack,Dr Ziad Abu Zeid, said Mr Stevens was brought to the Benghazi Medical Center by Libyans on Tuesday night with no other Americans, and that initially no one realized he was the ambassador. The doctor tried for 90 minutes to revive him.
Mr Stevens was a career diplomat who spoke Arabic and French and had already served two tours in Libya, including running the office in Benghazi during the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi.
Five other U.S. ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty, the last being Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979.
U.S. officials said one destroyer, the USS Laboon, moved to a position off the coast of Libya, and the USS McFaul is en route and should be stationed off the coast within days.
The officials say the ships, which carry Tomahawk missiles, do not have a specific mission, but they give commanders flexibility to respond to any mission ordered by the president.
The destroyers have crews totaling about 300 each. There have been four destroyers in the Mediterranean for some time. These moves will increase that to five.
President Obama could also command unmanned surveillance drones to fly over Benghazi in search of jihadi encampments possibly tied to the deadly attack, a U.S. official said who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The drones, which would pass gathered information to Libyans, are expected to be approved by the Pentagon and White House shortly. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side on Wednesday, Mr Obama said: ‘Justice will be done.’
President Obama condemned the attack and paid tribute to the late Ambassador Stevens as he ordered increased security at diplomatic posts around the world.
‘It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi, as it’s a city that he helped to save,’ Mr Obama said outside the White House.
With ‘characteristic skill, courage and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyans… and he worked tirelessly to support this young democracy. ‘He was a role model to those who worked with him and to the young diplomats who strive to follow in his footsteps.
‘These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. We grieve with their families but let us carry on their memory… I have no doubt that their legacy will live on.’
He added: ‘The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this outrageous and shocking attack. There is no justification to this type of senseless violence. None.’
In a statement, Mrs Clinton added: ‘I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago. He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation.’
There is now speculation over the identity of the film’s producer who works under the pseudonym of Sam Bacile. He had told reporters that he was an Israeli Jew who financed the project with $5million from 100 Jewish donors.
None of those statements have proven to be true, and Israeli officials later confirmed that there is no citizen of their country with that name. Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location on Tuesday, ‘Bacile’ remained defiant, saying he intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.
‘This is a political movie,’ said Bacile. He continued: ‘The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re fighting with ideas.’
‘Islam is a cancer, period,’ he said repeatedly. YouTube has since blocked the video in Egypt and Libya.