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Monday, July 23, 2018

Benghazi’s night of fear and death

Blow-by-blow reconstruction of US consulate attack that killed Ambassador J Christopher Stevens tells story of confusion,fear,and the Libyan consulate guards’ likely sympathy for the popular anger

Written by Reuters | Benghazi | Published: September 14, 2012 1:02:07 am

Hadeel Al Shalchi

A crowd gathered at the US consulate at about 7 pm (10.30 pm India time) on Tuesday,chanting slogans against the anti-Islam film. Some of those who took part said it was a spontaneous,unplanned public protest.

Local journalists saw an eclectic gathering infuriated by religious sentiment,but few bearing arms.

“When we heard there was a film that was insulting to the Prophet,we came to hold a small demonstration,” a 17-year-old student named Hamam said on Wednesday.

At some point,shooting began. Hamam said a rumour spread that a protester had been wounded in firing from inside the consulate. So,he and many others went to get their own guns.

“We started shooting at them,” Hamam said. “Some others threw homemade bombs over the fences. The Libyan security ran off.”

Around 10 pm,rioters surged into the compound. Among them were units of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia,which sympathises with al-Qaeda and derides Libya’s US-backed bid for democracy.

“They came in through all the gates. They were shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ and shooting in the air,” Ali Khamis,a gardener who was in his room at the consulate,said.

Abdel-Salam al-Bargathi,effective head of Benghazi’s police,and Wissam Buhmeid,commander of a pro-government defence force,said that the 40 or more Libyan guards may have felt little will to defend the consulate.

“I first place the blame on the US itself for allowing such a movie to be produced. This was the product of the anger of Muslims,” Buhmeid said. “The security forces were themselves offended; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate.”

US officials said the main villa was set on fire with three Americans inside: Ambassador J Christopher Stevens,IT specialist Sean Smith,and a security officer. Only the last made it outside.

Hamam said he saw an American covered in soot lying apparently dead. Photographs on the Net appeared to show Stevens unconscious and begrimed,being held by local men.

Dr Ziad Abu Zaid of Benghazi Medical Centre said civilians brought in a man they said was American around 1 am. “He was in a state of cardiac arrest. I performed CPR for 45 minutes,but he died of asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation.”

Only when someone told him the patient had come from the consulate did he make out Stevens’s features beneath the grime,the doctor said.

Libyan officials said the surviving Americans from the consulate withdrew to a safe house. Well after 1.30 am,Captain Fathi al-Obeidi,commander of a special operations force,took eight US troops who had flown in from Tripoli to a farmhouse where he found 37 Americans — too many for the 10 vehicles he had brought.

Then,the villa came under a massive,well-organised assault. Two Americans,including one of the eight security personnel sent from Tripoli,were killed and several wounded.

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