Attack On U.S. Consulate In Libya Grew Out Of Protest

Audie Cornish speaks with Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Reuters' Libya Correspondent, about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday that killed four U.S. diplomats.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We'll hear more from Secretary Clinton in a moment, but first to Benghazi and to Reuters' Middle East correspondent, Hadeel Al-Shalchi, who's been trying to piece together what happened.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI: What people are telling me here is that the attacks began as an escalation of a protest that started - was supposed to be peaceful. It started off as protest because of this anger towards this U.S.-produced film that people here say was insulting to the Prophet. And then when shooting began, it escalated with some of the Libyans got injured and then they started bringing their weapons and started throwing weapons and ammunition at the consulate. And then there were clashes with security.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

What else do you know about how the attack was carried out? You mentioned the weapons.

AL-SHALCHI: Right. So what we know is that armed militia came into the attack. They brought everything from RPGs to handmade bombs to light weapons to automatic weapons also.

BLOCK: Now, how did Libyan security forces react?

AL-SHALCHI: Well, at the beginning, Libyan security forces blocked the road towards the consulate, but then as the attacks intensified, they actually withdrew. They weren't able to stop the storming of the consulate.

BLOCK: Now, what's going on in Benghazi today? What efforts have you seen or talked about in terms of going after the people responsible?

AL-SHALCHI: What we're seeing, actually, is not much security on the streets here. I mean, I've been driving around Benghazi and it seems like normal day, except that, you know, the only thing is, everybody's talking about what happened at the consulate yesterday. The consulate is open for everybody to walk in and out of. I mean, you could go in and take pictures of - and that's what Libyans are doing - and taking pictures and videos of what's happening at the consulate.

The burned buildings and the looting and, you know, there's some damaged homes and that kind of thing. And so you can just walk in and out and it's not enforced by any - by any way.

BLOCK: Talk about what the scene is there right now. What are Libyans saying who are at the site? What were saying to you?

AL-SHALCHI: There a number of views, you know. There are some people who say, you know, well, you know, this was a natural response to the anger of insulting our prophet. Other people say that, you know, even though we're angry about the movie, that this shouldn't have escalated the way it did and they feel really sorry and ashamed.

Today, the president of the general national congress apologized to America and also said that, you know, they would try to get to the bottom of this, that they would not accept for a group of lawless people to take power into their own hands. The interior ministry didn't take too much responsibility but said that, you know, this is obviously a case of poor security because the country's still in a transitional period.

It's kind of a mishmash of responses, the majority of which have been, you know, shock and dismay.

BLOCK: Hadeel, thank you so much for talking with us.

AL-SHALCHI: Okay, you're welcome. Thanks very much.

BLOCK: Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Reuters Middle East correspondent.

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