State Department må idag forklare seg for Kongressen om hva som skjedde da ambassadør Christopher Stevens og tre andre amerikanere ble drept i konsultatet i Benghazi.
Tjenestemenn har forhåndsbriefet pressen om hva de har funnet ut. En opplysning gir politisk ammunisjon til Barack Obamas kritikere: Det var ikke tegn til noen protest eller aktivitet utenfor konsulatet før angrepet begynte 21.20. FN-ambssadør Susan Rice sa det først var en protest mot videoen Innocence of Muslims. Hvis dette skulle vise seg å være oppspinn kan det bli en belastning for administrasjonen.
One senior official described the Benghazi attack as unprecedented and said security measures were always being adjusted. «We attempt to mitigate our risks. We cannot eliminate them,» the official said.
The officials described the rented villa in which Stevens was hiding as a large residence with numerous bedrooms. Half of one floor was a «safe haven» barricaded with a gate and locks.
Stevens, Sean Smith, an information management officer, and five armed American security agents were in the compound the night of attack on September 11. There were also four members of a Libyan militia, assigned as the local government’s protection force.
Stevens arrived in Benghazi on September 10 and the next day held a series of meetings at the compound. His last visitor was a Turkish diplomat, whom he escorted to the main gate at 8:30 p.m. local time, a State Department official said.
«There had been nothing unusual during the day at all outside,» the official said.
The State Department officials downplayed earlier assertions that the anti-Muslim film was a trigger for the violence. «That is the question that you would have to ask others. That was not our conclusion, that’s not saying we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened,» one official said.
GUNFIRE AND AN EXPLOSION
At 9:40 p.m., security agents in Benghazi heard loud noises at the gate, gunfire and an explosion. A large number of armed men entered the compound.
One agent went to fetch the ambassador from his bedroom as well as Smith. The three entered the so-called safe haven, which had window grills and a central windowless closet area where people could take refuge.
The security agent was armed with a submachine gun and a sidearm. He radioed to other agents that he was with Stevens in the safe haven.
Other agents tried to enter the villa, but they encountered a large group of armed men and retreated to another building in the compound where they barricaded themselves in.
The attackers swarmed into the darkened villa and walked around in the living area. They looked through the grill into the safe area and tried to enter it but could not.
The agent protecting Stevens watched their movements with a gun trained on them, ready to shoot.
The attackers carried cans of diesel fuel that they sprinkled on furniture and set on fire.
The building filled with smoke and fumes, and the air inside grew black. Stevens, Smith and the security agent moved to a bathroom in the safe area where they opened a window but still could not get enough air.
They decided to leave through an adjacent bedroom. Outside, there were shots, tracer bullets, smoke and explosions.
The officials said the security agent, whom they did not identify, was suffering «severely» from smoke inhalation and could barely breathe. He left the villa first, following protocol, but when he turned back he did not see the other two.
OVERCOME BY SMOKE
He returned to try to rescue Stevens but he could not find him. He went in and out of the building several times before he was overcome by smoke.
The agent went up a ladder to the roof, collapsed and radioed other agents who arrived to continue the hunt for Stevens and Smith.
«They take turns going into the building on their hands and knees, feeling their way through the building to try to find their two colleagues. They find Sean. They pull him out of the building. He is deceased. They are unable to find the ambassador,» one official said.
Six security personnel from a U.S. annex nearby arrived with members of the Libyan militia, known as the February 17 Brigade.
They took people from the compound and transported Smith’s body to a secure annex, running into traffic, hand grenades, and two flat tires.
The annex came under fire, killing two security personnel and wounding another. They spent hours securing the annex, then evacuated everyone on two flights.