New vivid account of deadly attack on U.S. embassy in Libya that reveals how security forces attempted to save Americans under fierce fire
PUBLISHED:22:24 EST, 9 October 2012| UPDATED:00:22 EST, 10 October 2012
Senior State Department officials publicly acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, was not preceded by protests as previously thought.
Briefing reporters ahead of a hotly anticipated congressional hearing Wednesday, officials provided a more detailed account of the attack, painting a vivid picture of how a peaceful day in Benghazi devolved into a sustained attack that involved multiple groups of men armed with weapons such as machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars over an expanse of more than a mile.
‘The lethality and number of armed people is unprecedented,’ an official stated. ‘There was no attack anywhere in Libya — Tripoli or Benghazi — like this, So it is unprecedented and would be very, very hard to find a precedent like that in recent diplomatic history.’
According to the latest account of the attack, there were no protests before the assault on the embassy. Also, State Department officials stated that former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died from a mortar attack, and that officials still do not know how Ambassador Christopher Stevens made it from the compound to the hospital.
September 11, 2012, started out as a regular day in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi which sits on a property the size of a football field surrounded by a nine-foot wall topped by barbed wire and other security upgrades.
Ambassador Stevens arrived in the city the day before accompanied by a five-person security detail. On the anniversary of 9/11, the American envoy decided to hold meetings inside the secured compound, fearing possible acts of violence.
At around 8:30pm that night, Stevens concluded his final meeting of the day and escorted Turkish diplomat outside the main entrance of the consulate. At the time, everything appeared calm and there were no protests in the streets.
A little over an hour later, security agents started hearing loud noises, gunfire and explosions near the front gate. A barracks at the entrance housing the local militiamen was burnt down, and a large group of armed men was captured on a security camera flowing into the consulate.
Alarm was sounded, and consulate officials proceeded to alert their colleagues in the embassy in Tripoli, officials in Washington, the Libyan authorities and a U.S. quick reaction force located at a second compound a little over a mile away.
One agent, armed with a sidearm and an M4 submachine gun, led Stevens and computer specialist Sean Smith to a safe room inside one of the compound’s two main residences which was equipped with a heavy metal grill and several locks, as well as windows that can be opened only from the inside.
The other security officials armed themselves with long guns, body armor, helmets and ammunition at other buildings. Two of them made an attempt to enter the building with Stevens, but were forced to retreat after meeting resistance. .
Attackers eventually managed to enter the building where the ambassador was hiding and attempted to open the door to the safe room, but to no avail. They dumped jerry cans of diesel fuel in the building, lit furniture on fire and set aflame part of the exterior of the building.
Innocent: Computer specialist Sean Smith, left, died at the consulate from smoke inhalation, while Ambassador Chris Stevens, right, passed away at the hospital, although it remains unclear how he got there
Heroic: Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods, right, and Glen Doherty, left, were killed in a mortar attack
Two of the remaining four agents barricaded inside the compound’s other residence, preventing the armed men from entering. The protesters then attempted to gain access to the tactical operations center, but were unable to enter the building despite smashing the door.
Meanwhile, the building that was housing the ambassador rapidly began filling up with thick diesel smoke and fumes from the burning furniture. Inside, visibility was less than three feet.
Unable to breathe, the Americans opened a window in the bathroom, but it proved insufficient to fill the room with fresh air. At that point, a decision was made to leave the building.
The agent went out first, flopping out onto a patio enclosed by sandbags and immediately taking fire, including probably rocket-propelled grenades.
Stevens and Smith did not come out, so the agent, suffering severely from smoke inhalation, went in and out of the building several times to look for them. He then climbed to the roof and collapsed, but not before radioing the other agents to alert them.
The other four agents were able to reunite and take an armored vehicle to Stevens’ building. They reached the agent on the roof and tried to set up a perimeter. Taking turns enter the building, the agents scoured the premises on their hands and knees for the missing Americans.
Smith was eventually pulled out dead, but Stevens was not found.
A six-person quick reaction security team arrived from their compound across town accompanied by about 60 Libyan militiamen accompany. They also attempted to secure a perimeter around the building, but determined that they can’t hold it.
Outnumbered by ‘an unbelievable amount of bad guys’ in the compound the militia fighters told the security team they had to evacuate, according to a State Department official.
‘We’ve got to leave, we can’t hold the perimeter,’ the official said the militia told the team.
After taking fire, a decision was made to evacuate the compound and return with everyone to the reaction force’s compound.
Agents piled into an armored vehicle, with Smith’s body in tow, and left through the main gate under fire. Crowds and groups of men blocked two different routes to the security compound, creating heavy traffic that slowed down the escaping Americans to about 15mph.
Traveling a narrow street, they reached a group of men who signaled for them to enter a compound. However, the security officials ‘smelled a rat’ and sped away, taking heavy fire from AK-47 machine guns at a distance of only two feet, and hand grenades thrown against and under the car which blew two of the tires. .
They sped past another crowd of men and onto a main street and across a grassy median into opposing traffic. The agents drove against traffic, eventually reaching their compound, where they took more heavy fire for several hours.
In the night, a team of reinforcements from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli arrived on a chartered aircraft at the Benghazi airport and reached the security compound.
At around 4am, the compound’s building was hit by mortar fire which killed agents Doherty and Woods. One agent who was involved in the attack from the beginning was severely wounded.
The men then decided to evacuate the city entirely. The following several hours were spent securing the annex and moving a large convoy of vehicles to the airport before they were evacuated on two flights.
Stevens was not seen by the security team again until his body was delivered to the airport, officials said, and they still do know how he reached the Libyan hospital where attempts were made to treat him for smoke inhalation.
Officials said that they were informed that Stevens was at the hospital only after doctors found his cell phone and began calling the most recently dialled numbers.
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