U.S. officials and Libyan militiamen met to discuss the deteriorating security in Benghazi just two days before the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Stevens is shown here at the consulate in June.
U.S. officials and Libyan militiamen met to discuss the deteriorating security in Benghazi just two days before the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Stevens is shown here at the consulate in June. John Poole/NPR
Two days before the deadly Sept. 11 attack on Americans in Libya, three U.S. officials met pro-government militias working to provide security in the city of Benghazi.
In that meeting, which included the American economic and political counselors, Mohammed el Gharabi, a leader of a prominent militia, says he warned the Americans that the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating.
Assassinations are becoming rampant; no one is safe, including militiamen like himself, he says he told the Americans.
He asked for help to secure Benghazi and suggested scaling back or possibly closing diplomatic missions until conditions were more secure. He didn't cite any specific threat, but reminded the Americans that there had been an attack in June on the fortified U.S. Consulate, which is enclosed by a high wall, topped with concertina wire.
They didn't heed his warning, he says.
So far, the U.S. government has been tight-lipped about the security procedures that day when a two-pronged attack on the consulate and a safe house left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Spontaneous Or Planned?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday she was forming a panel to investigate the attack. Much of the current debate centers around whether the attack was spontaneous or planned.
Libya's President Mohammed el-Megarif says he believes the attack was planned, but U.S. officials have said they have not seen any such evidence so far.
Clinton has also said that the mission in Benghazi was secured properly and that there was no indication of an imminent threat.
"Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world," she said.
But Libyan witnesses are asking why Stevens was apparently left alone at the consulate. When the attack by heavily armed men was over, fires raged and people looted the compound.
Video Footage From The Consulate
Libyan Fahed al Bakkosh took video of events that night and has posted the footage on YouTube. His video shows Libyans pulling a man — who appears to be Stevens — from a room at the consulate.
Bakkosh says he walked into the consulate after midnight. There were no Americans and no visible security as Libyans looted the compound. He then heard a young man scream, "Dead body."
Libyans were pulling the man out of a smoke-filled room, and the man was still breathing, Bakkosh says. The Libyans took him to the hospital, and only later, Bakkosh says, did they discover it was Stevens.
The doctor who treated Stevens says he died of asphyxiation, and his heart had stopped by the time he reached the hospital.
Where were the bodyguards? Bakkosh asks. There wasn't even an ambulance, he says.
Hours after the consulate attack, Libyan authorities sent security forces to the Benghazi airport to meet a U.S. team sent to evacuate the Americans.
One of those Libyans, Fathi Obeidi, described the U.S. group as seven Marines in civilian clothes. Using a GPS, they went to a secret safe house inside a walled compound.
There, they found three villas, one of which was occupied by more than 20 Americans who had fled the consulate, says Obeidi.
Within 15 minutes, that house came under fire by either RPG or mortar fire, he said. The assailants, he said, appeared to have been lying in wait. They fired from a distance, and it was impossible to identify them.
After the attack stopped, the U.S. rescue team and the Libyans evacuated the Americans to the Benghazi airport. They asked the Libyan security forces to bring Stevens' body from the hospital. Obeid says it took two planes to evacuate all the Americans from Benghazi.