Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
September 12th, 2012
10:16 PM ET

Six things to know about attack that killed Ambassador Stevens

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed Tuesday as gunmen set fire to and fought security forces at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack came as protesters outside the compound rallied against a movie that unflatteringly portrays Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. U.S. sources are giving conflicting accounts about whether the attack was planned before the protest and whether the attackers used the protest as a diversion.

If you’re new to the story and need to catch up, here are six key things to know about the incident.

1) What happened?

On Tuesday night, protesters were outside the consulate in Benghazi, demonstrating against the video "Innocence of Muslims," which reportedly was made in California by a producer whose identity is unclear.

Eventually, a group of heavily armed militants "infiltrated the march to start chaos," according to Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif.

Initial reports indicate the four-hour assault began around 10 p.m. as attackers pelted the U.S. Consulate complex's main compound with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades . Within 15 minutes, the gunmen entered the building.

Four hours of fire and chaos: How the attack unfolded

The attackers set the consulate ablaze - it's not clear how, though one senior U.S. official said a rocket-propelled grenade started the fire. American and Libyan security personnel tried to fight the attackers and the fire.

As the fire spread, three people Stevens, Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith and a U.S. regional security officer were in a safe room, senior State Department officials said.

The three tried to leave when smoke filled the safe room. After the security officer escaped the building, he returned with others to try to rescue Stevens and Smith. Smith was found dead, apparently of smoke inhalation, officials said.

Stevens was missing. Libyans later said that bystanders found an unconscious Stevens and took him to a hospital, though U.S. officials could not confirm that account. His body was handed over to Americans at an airport; it’s not clear how he died.

Ex-SEALs, online gaming maven among Benghazi dead

Two other Americans, whose names haven’t been released, were killed and two others were wounded during a gunbattle between security forces and militants at the complex, a senior administration official said.

2) Who did it, and why?

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said on Wednesday: “At this stage it would be premature to ascribe any motive to this reprehensible act.”

But sources tracking militant Islamist groups in eastern Libya say a pro-al Qaeda group responsible for a previous armed assault on the Benghazi consulate is the chief suspect.

They also note that the attack immediately followed a call from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for revenge for the death in June of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior Libyan member of al Qaeda.

U.S. sources also have said they believed the attack was planned and used the protest as a diversion, though the sources could not say whether the attackers instigated the protest or merely took advantage of it.

A London think tank with strong ties to Libya was among those to speculate Wednesday that the attackers "came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi."

It was "the work of roughly 20 militants, prepared for a military assault," the think tank Quilliam said, noting that there were no other protests against the film elsewhere in Libya.

“Jihadists will want the world to believe that the attack is just a part of the protests against an amateur film produced in the U.S., which includes crude insults regarding the Prophet Mohammed. They will want the world to think that their actions represent a popular Libyan and wider Muslim reaction; thus, reversing the perception of jihadists being outcasts from their own societies,” Quilliam president Norman Benotman said.

The significance of the timing of the attack, which fell on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, is unclear.

3) What is this movie that people were protesting?

Again, it’s not clear whether the attack stemmed directly from outrage over the movie. But protesters outside the consulate did demonstrate against “Innocence of Muslims” before the attack, as did demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, 700 miles to the east of Benghazi.

An online trailer for the movie depicts Islam as a fraudulent religion bent on getting rid of nonbelievers. Cartoonish scenes show Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer.

But the film’s actors and crew members released a statement Wednesday saying they were “grossly misled” about the filmmaker’s intent. An actress in the film who asked not to be identified said the original script did not include a Prophet Mohammed character, and that the actors’ lines had been changed post-production.

A casting call published in July 2011 in publications for actors identifies the working title of the movie as "Desert Warrior" and describes it as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure film."

The Wall Street Journal identified the filmmaker as Sam Bacile. The Journal reported that, in its telephone interview with Bacile, he characterized his film as "a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam."

But CNN has not been able to contact him, and a search of public records on Sam Bacile came up empty. Casting further doubt on the filmmaker's identity, The Atlantic quoted a consultant of the filmmaker’s as saying Sam Bacile is a pseudonym and said "he did not know Bacile's real name."

Reaction to anti-Islam film fuels debate on free speech versus hate speech

News of the video, posted in July on YouTube, spread as Egyptian television recently aired segments and anti-Islam activists, including Egyptian-born Coptic Christian Morris Sadek, promoted it online.

Many Muslims find any depiction of Mohammed to be offensive  - a Danish newspaper's publication in 2005 of Mohammed caricatures triggered riots - and derogatory depictions of the prophet are considered by some to be worse.

4) What will the United States do about the attack?

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States "will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act and make no mistake, justice will be done."

A senior U.S. official told CNN that American surveillance drones are expected to join the hunt for jihadists who may be tied to the attack. The drones are expected to gather intelligence that will be turned over to Libyan officials for strikes, the official said.

A senior defense official said the drones would be part of "a stepped-up, more focused search" for a particular insurgent cell that may have been behind the killings.

In June, a senior Libyan official told CNN that U.S. controllers were already flying the unmanned craft over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns about rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region.

Two U.S. Navy destroyers  the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul are moving toward the coast of Libya, two U.S. officials told CNN. Both ships are equipped with tomahawk missiles that could be used if a strike was ordered.

About 50 U.S. Marines are headed to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after the attack to beef up security in response to the attack, U.S. officials said Wednesday. The unit is specially trained to retake or guard diplomatic installations and other U.S. facilities in troubled regions.

The United States said it also would increase security at its embassies around the world.

5) How has the Libyan government reacted?

Libya's leaders apologized for the attack. Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib called it a "cowardly, criminal act."

U.S. and NATO warplanes helped a Benghazi-based rebellion drive on Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last year. Gadhafi was overthrown.

The militants suspected in Tuesday night's attack "are a very small minority" who are taking advantage of a fledgling democracy, Ali Suleiman Aujali, the Libyan ambassador the United States, told CNN's "Amanpour." "The good thing about this is the majority - 95, 98% of the Libyan people care not for this," he said.

6) Who was Stevens?

Stevens served in several posts for the U.S. Foreign Service in the Middle East and North Africa before being named U.S. ambassador to Libya in May.

He was involved with Libya for several years, serving as the U.S. deputy chief of mission from 2007 to 2009. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent him to Benghazi to be an envoy to the rebels during the revolt against Gadhafi.

Stevens graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982, then took a pause in his studies to join the Peace Corps, according to his State Department biography.

"Growing up in California, I didn't know much about the Arab world," he said in a State Department video prepared to introduce him to the Libyan people after his appointment as ambassador in May.

Slain ambassador warned in '08 about extremists near Benghazi

"I worked as an English teacher in a town in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco for two years, and quickly grew to love this part of the world," he said.

– CNN's Suzanne Kelly, Sarah Aarthun, Michael Pearson, Moni Basu, Tom Watkins, Barabara Starr, Chris Lawrence, Jomana Karadsheh, Elise Labott, Nic Robertson, Jill Dougherty, Tom Cohen and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Libya
soundoff (680 Responses)
  1. GrampaSez

    Thank you for your compliments.

    I would ask you, "How do you know the maker of the film is CHRISTIAN, when CNN cannot determine WHO made the film?"

    Their efforts to track, or verify the existence of "SAM BACILE" have been so far FUTILE.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. GrampaSez

    It is instructive to go to YOUTUBE and look at the RIOT-PICTURES of "US citizens" who were clashing with police, amid explosions and molotov coc tails, breaking glass in small businesses and burning cars...

    Except for the obvious MILITAYR MURDERS IN LIBYA – 20 heavily armed people on a mission to kill an "ambassador" – the REST of the demonstrators have a LOT in common with OWS.

    Makes you wonder, if UNIONS created and managed OWS, where WADE RATHKE and SEIU INTERNATIONAL has been the last couple of years...

    September 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Fourth Horseman

      I saw the movie Innocence of Muslims. Apparently this movie was originally cast as Desert Warriors, but Sam Bacile who had an anti Islamic agenda re dubbed parts of it with an anti Islamic message. The film is horrible, and the way he portrayed Muslims is horrible regardless of what I think or extremist Muslims. Never the less, if I was a Muslim I would be upset based on the portrayal of my religion.

      It is my my belief that this film was used as a screen to cover for a well planned attack by extremists. Naturally the Left Wing (so called Mainstream ) Media began its attacks on Romney. They didn't call CNN the Clinton New Network for nothing back in the day.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vlad-Drakul

      Most of the violence at the OWS DEMOnstrattions (which are part of our DEMOCRATIC society) was stareted by the police. Teh many films prove it. And just today the UK Goverment admitted it blamed the victims PURPOSELY to get th e polce of the hok when 87 died at a foot ball match 23 years ago. I have seen police dressed up as demonstrators samshing windows as the start gun for police to then use this excuse to start bashing heads.
      WHat you represent is the thinking of the fascist dicatarors like Saddam ; a creature of our own foreign policy just like the Taliban.
      But you just sneer. There a regood and bad people EVERYWHERE and you are an example of the very worst. Racist anti democratic warmongers!

      September 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • An Optimist

      Free Speech does not mean no accountability. Send the twerp to Egypt to explain himself.

      September 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. derp

    "If you’re new to the story and need to catch up, here are six key things to know about the incident"

    !. Muslims are animals.
    2. Muslims are animals.
    3. Muslims are animals.
    4. Muslims are animals.
    5. Muslims are animals.
    6. Muslims are animals.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • derp

      "who is planning doing exactly what the terrorist want us to do"

      And you are an idiot who write a coherent sentence.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • saywhat

      @derp
      Are you sure Sir, you are allowed to run around without your strait jacket?

      September 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • russ

      derp,
      Not all Muslims are animals, just like not all Baptist animals. We should never judge the many because of a the few.

      September 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • seaspirit

      people keep saying we misunderstand their culture and religion. I don't think so.

      September 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Reply

      I think it is mentality as yours that has resulted in hurt feelings and death of innocent people like Ambassador Stevens. I wish you had said Same Bacille and Terry Jones are animals who instigated this mess. Muslims, Christians and Jews share enough to peacefully coexist, yet maintain their differences at the same time. I wish you would shut up your hate talk.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Robert C

    100% Truth & Clinton's still getting big paycheck for there incompetence. NAFDA for instance !

    September 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. derp

    Mooooohamed had multiple wives an some of them were children. He was a pe do phile womanizer., just as the movie depicted.

    The first amendment guarantees me the right to call him that.

    It also give me the right to call moooooselims violent reactionary barbarians.

    Unfortunately they are currently proving me right.

    September 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. American

    this story is more like it CNN...

    Just reporting the facts without all the twist (spin)
    Now this is journalism
    All that ra ra ra crap about peace lovin' muslims being the 99% is horsesh–
    The other bla bla bla about this movie causing this trouble is a pile too !
    One does not have to look far to find someone else trashing on thier religion.
    Making movies, writing books, articles, and such defaming Christ, Mooohamid, Budha, etc. is nothing new, hello !
    Saturday Night live skits, comedy club routines, etc..
    Seams to be fair game for anyone else – except dare not touch muslims and gays.
    And anybody opposing THEM is a "hater"

    September 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • joev

      you and a millon americans know it wasn"t about no movie..........just main street media bull....they can"t tell the truth......................vote them all out.......get our people home.......send nooo more money

      September 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    Hey, why don't you do some research and get all the facts before you respond. Take a look at what Romney said and when, then you may understand why even his own party is trying to distance themselves from what he said. It is not about condeming the horrible act that happened, it is making it political and making a statement without having all of the facts. He made a comment about Obama saying something that he never said.

    I'm so tired of politics, will it ever stop.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ric

    come on people, do you guys do not see that this attack, and video etc... is yet again another plan to inavade a country that happens to be oilrich. In other to invade you need to have a justification in the peoples mind. If I say kill that guy on the corner, you wouldn't kill him, if I was crazy.. But if I say he just killed your mother, you would justify it and think it's o.k. The Video, the attacks on the US Embassy, everything is Mind Control!!! People Remember what happened in IRAK, this is not a RELIGIOUS ISSUE, THIS IS MONEY!!!! Lybia has a lot of Oil, and it'sall interests... The US doesn't give a damn about the US Embassy.... WAKE UP!!!!

    September 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • russ

      Ric, are you serious, the oil in Libya was/is ours for the taking. I can see that you have as much polotical knowledge as Archie Bunker!!!

      September 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Loady

      Well put.

      September 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • joev

      you need to wake up

      September 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chuck

    Just a question.

    Why is there so much negative attention to Romney's initial reaction to the "apology" issued by the Administration due to its political implications, and very little (if any) negative reaction to the President's numerous political campaign appearances during these critical events? Shouldn't a case be made that that the President should be in the White House (or at least in the DC area) during this period where American embassies are being attacked and Americans hurt (or killed) throughout the Middle East?

    September 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • joev

      you got that right

      September 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Appreciative

    Incredibly will written article. I have seen few that compare to it. It presents the news in a professional unbiased manner. I wish all media would set this standard.

    Thank you!

    September 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. SoapBottleReader

    Dr. Bronner? Is that you? What happened to the AllOneGod screed?

    September 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. woodofpine

    Bush 'squeezed' OBL into Pakistan LOL (Bush wouldn't even let US troops lead at Tora Bora! That was the squeeze!?) And the GOP LOVED Kaddafy, whining about the cheap 6 weeks to do him in ("Obama's War'), I'm not sure who is more inept Arab politicians or GOP ones!

    September 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. H

    Extremists are dangerous in all religions.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Duckhigh

    islam = insanity
    islam = insanity

    we are not full of hate ..... THEY ARE !!!!!

    September 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Booz

    Was the missile stike on the US embassy a mossad operation ?

    September 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
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