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.

Post by:
Filed under: Libya
soundoff (680 Responses)
  1. TPN51

    According to reports Ambassador Stevens and his staff where behind a locked steel gate to the office and they couldn't find the key to open it. Also reports of 4 cars waiving the al-Qaeda flag were on the compound. To make matters worse, the majority of the protesters don't even know who made the movie, all they know it was an American film. Was this a deliberate attack? I think so, the timing of the film just added to the madness. Al Jazeera TV reports a much different perspective versus the spin the US is placing on this tragic event.Their correspondence is on the streets talking to protesters. The fact is that the people there have no clue, just that they hate the US.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. bigdumbdinosaur

    This is Pres. Obama's "Neville Chamberlain moment." He has appeased violent Muslim interests throughout his tenure in the White House and this is the result.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. mtb

    How is it that 11 years after 9-11 the Obama Administration FAILED to beef-up security or even have any situational awareness around the anniversary of that event? Talk about a collapse of leadership or desire to protect our interests...he fell flat.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
    • NeoGraphix

      The organization that dropped the ball is the State Dept not the president. I understand he is in charge but the Dept needs to take responsibility for what they are suppose to do and they didn't do it.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Alex Clark

    This really saddens me... I pray that one day, there will be an end to all of this violence. Unfortunately, this will not end until us humans are all long gone 🙁

    September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • NeoGraphix

      As long as people believe in any sort of deity there will be no peace. The only other reasons for war is land and natural resources.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. dingleberrydewdrop

    Its time to turn out backs on the middle east once and for all. We help them, they attack us. We help them some more, they attack us. The world will be a better place with out the middle east! I have no grudge against Muslims. There are plenty of peaceful Muslims elsewhere in the world. But the Middle East need to disappear! I call on President Obama to make travel, trade, sale of US goods and services, purchase of middle east goods and services such as oil, and exspecially any type of aid (financial, military, food, humanitarian, etc..) to all be illegal with the penalty of DEATH to any US citizen who even so much as attempts to say hello to someone in the middle east. Let the ba st ards kill themselves off and leave us out of it!

    September 13, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  6. ns

    Yes, American values include "free speech", but not hate speech.
    Also, there is such a thing as civility, and respect for others.
    Did Romney's support of the bigotted film add to the problem? Cause the attack? Need to check.
    Romney belongs to a religion which has no respect for other's beliefs. Did this carry over to his
    stupid, and possibly trouble making, remarks??

    September 13, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      What "support" for the film? Backing what you say, and your right to say it, are two very different things. Yes, the rights our country was founded to guarantee and spread throughout the world will have to be fought for.
      Far worse has been said and depicted about Christianity and Judaism, and been heralded as "Art." Did anyone get blown up? No.
      Don't forget the film was merely an excuse. These attacks would have happened without the movie. And the Obama administration's apology for freedom happened regardless of the attacks.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • buddter

      take your Liberal hate speech rant and shove it. You would only identify something as hate speech if you don't agree with it. Religion is ridiculed in this country form all sides. (Madonna). Muslims need to get over it. Find the people involved and give them a drone.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • HA25

      NS – you don't have any grasp of what Free Speech is. It is not protecting your ability to decide who is picking up your kid from soccer camp. The speech that needs protecting is the inflammatory speech at the margins. The provocative speech that goes against what the majority believes.
      Which means, in effect, yes – American Values include all speech including hate speech.

      Having said that – when does calling out a fairy tale promoting misogyny and murder "hate speech"????

      September 13, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. TheonlyJGlenn

    The things I read on here. THey can be so very extreme, cautious, and on point. Most of you put your own facts or facts you read somewhere else to comment here. Then it is hilarious when people think they know more than the President when it comes to these situations. Unless you were there or work in the state department you only know what news outlets know. And to let you know, they do not know enough to make assumptionsn.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. AJW3

    Islam has been set back 12 years do to these so called 'fundamentalist' groups.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. David

    The media is doing everything it can to distract from the fact that Obama not only has culpability in this, handing Libya over to these radicals, but apoligzed for the freedom of speech we cherish both before and after the attacks. The most pathetic, has been this trumped up controversy over Romney giving his opinion, as if he has no right. We will elect who will deal with this in November. BOTH candidates need to include their plan for this issue in the future, IN their political campaigns!!
    Just grow some integrity media! For once!

    September 13, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • AJW3

      Romney would have us bombing innocent people by now which would escalate into another world war. How about a little restraint and common sense.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      Got a quote on that AJW3? Who's moved warships off the coast of Libya already? That wasn't Romney.
      Get a clue. WWIII is starting and it began when a weak US President inspired radicalism to sweep power throughout the middle east. And then PRAISED it as a victory for "Democracy."

      September 13, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • AJW3

      Yes I know.....there was no radicalism before Obama. The warships are there as a preventative measure, not to shoot first and ask questions later a.k.a. Republican mantra.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • HA25

      @ajw3 – David I do believe was referring to Bush, not Obama. You might want to read with a little less hyper-partisanship lens on.
      And your statement that a warship is off the coast of Libya as a "Preventative" measure when it got there after the attack – well it needs a little explanation...

      September 13, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jimmy

    Read this book before you make funny comments .
    who paid the piper?

    September 13, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. i dont tweet

    So they want to be taken seriouly as a people? Yeah, this really help their case.
    All religion, including Islam, are fakes. Didn't the Catholics at one point slaughter the innocent who spoke up against them?
    Leave everyone of these countries & let them fend for themselves from here on in. Don't even give them a bag of rice. They will wipe each other out eventually because they are & have proving to be "unevolved" as a human race.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. Queue

    I don't know how many have noticed this, but there's some wordplay that can be had with the filmmaker's pseudonym: Sam Bacile. Remove the S from the beginning, you're left with: "am bacile". Place the S on the end: "am baciles". Say the two word together: "ambaciles". Ambaciles = Imbeciles.
    Whether this was intentional on the filmmaker's part (and if so, why), who knows. But the implication, if intentionally done so, is certainly a jab at something.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. cuk

    you've forgotten the important facts that clinton was responsible for pearl harbor and bush the emancipation proclamation.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. total non sense

    They are Mulsims it is that sinmple. the USA shoudl have soot on sight. Islam has declared war on the world and we must fight back. no peace possible as long as a single muslim lives.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • i dont tweet

      Agreed. If Islam has (and clearly they have) declared war on the world, shhot first, ask question later.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • perennial2

      Sometimes the answer is simple: the scourge of every civilization throughout history has been illiterate, unemployed lower class under-30 males. Add in a fanatic religion and a culture that gender segregates males into little more than roving canine packs. Not that much better in the U.S., but we do occasionally throw them into jail.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Jmacq1

      Right, because the "kill 'em all" mentality always works out well for those countries that implement it.

      Oh wait.

      well, at least it's not like blindly wanting all Muslims dead is just as bad as extremist Muslims blindly wanting all Americans/Non-Muslims dead!

      Oh wait....

      Well, at least we can take comfort in the knowledge that the worldwide population of Muslims isn't 5 times the population of the entire United States.

      Wait..crap, no we can't.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Gregory

    The movie that cause the death of our ambassador has right wing supporter written all over it.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • sirock

      Actuall he was a Egyptian Christian who has experienced first hand what it's like to live under muslum rule

      September 13, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      What you have written all over is intolerant-pugilistic-moron.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • HA25

      And you, Sir, cannot put the blame where it clearly belongs. Intolerant movie or not, it is not to blame for someone's death. The killers are.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26