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. weebitwidd11e

    Word is that preacher in Florida had a hand in the development of that movie. If it is true be sure it is true, then find out if he showed contempt of Islam and knew it would start a riot and people would be killed. If it is true then how about America charging him with terrorist threats.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Yes, let's give up freedom of speech because some people don't like some of the words. That sounds wise. Christianity is routinely insulted in Islamic countries but that doesn't give anyone the right to round up Muslims and slaughter them.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • jayr

      Easy blame it on the movie.
      Maybe it happened because we invaded their country and pillaged their resources. We armed al qaeda even though they are our sworn enemy, and these militants killed libyans cousins, daughters, sons, brothers, mothers etc... and they want to get us back. I would too.... if you touch my family your goin' down or somebody is paying for it. Our foreign policy sucks, it causes such things to happen. It was inevitable that this would happen. We need new leadership in this county and I mean Get the Dems and the Reps out they both suck and have for a long time.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Splashca

      I heard from a source that it was in retaliation for the DNC bragging about killing OBL at their convention. See how easy laying the blame can be. Besides, it makes more sense than a low grade movie by a nobody.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      So rather than expecting Muslims to act civilized, we should just assume they will go on a murderous rampage? And, of course, it is the non-Muslim world that should give up its rights to prevent more bloodshed.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • weebitwidd11e

      Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is not free speech. Yes you can argue that not all Muslims have the mind of a three year old. But everyone knows if you cry fire and people get hurt you are held responsible. It only takes a few in the theater to panic and more also panic this is when people get hurt. The history of the Al Qaeda are well known. You would not dare go to a Muslim country and burn the Quran in their town square. Islam is being manipulated by a few but the consequences are deadly. Everyone knows this. The contempt started when the actors actresses in the movie had no clue what the resulting movie was about they thought it was harmless. They did not even know Mohamed was in the movie. The producer knew what they was doing. That was your contempt and your yelling "fire".

      September 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • imakele

      He agreed to promote the movie; Terry Jones is who you're speaking of, the one who burned the Korans and caused riots in Afghanistan about a year ago.

      September 14, 2012 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. martin2176

    the guy in the picture committed blasphemy by misspelling Prophet as Profit ...where is the protest and riot ?

    September 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Clay

      Is that the most intelligent comment you can come up with?

      September 12, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Frank

    The most important thing to know about this attack, and about all other attacks, more important than anything else, is this: We have to take our friggin' shoes off and make a choice between having our genitals groped or nudie pictures taken of us just to fly from Las Vegas, Nevada to Duluth, Montana. They have won. "Freedom" is a quaint but nonexistent concept in America. The terrorists have completely and totally won.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Spoken by someone who obviously has never experienced a true repressive government. Anyone who lives in Cuba, China, North Korea, etc would chuckle at your ignorance.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      They're chuckling all right, but it's at you, standing with your arms and legs spread wide in a backscatter X-Ray machine while a guy making $7.50 a hour is also chuckling at you.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • jayr

      And we had a hand in it. Look up Barry Jennings, Look up Firemen heard explosions, look up waterboarding, look up building 7.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dainks

    A few more things you need to know:

    1. The attacks had NOTHING to do with some obscure video, but were coordinated acts of war on the United States by an Al Qaida splinter group given tacet approval by the Muslim Brotherhood, that President Barack Obama thinks is just a minority group with little influence.

    2. The acts of war were executed with malice and aforethought on September 11 with many attackers claiming vengeance for bin Laden. They were likely enflamed by VP Joe Biden's stupid and wreckless comments about SEAL Team Six and his inflamatory speech at the DNC.

    3. President Barack Obama, being formed of the situation before he went to bed on Tuesday evening, WENT TO BED ON TUESDAY EVENING, leaving the outcome of the Embasy and his Ambassador to whomever was "taking call" that night.

    4. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that she wondered how this could happen.

    Incompetence, carelessness and criminal naivete runs deep in this administration.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reverend Willie

      Obamma was actually one of the Muslims that attacked the embassy. He killed the ambassador with a holy scimitar and then got on a jet and flew back to washington to apologize to the Muslims.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • villageparrot

      I am more sorry for than disappointed in you for this reckless, unguarded comment.

      September 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. good on U mate

    we should learn to love each other.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ScottCA

    I can answer the question of why this happened with one word. R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N
    Religion is why all this killing and most of the killing ever committed has occurred.
    Religion gives people a perfect excuse to stop thinking completely, and gives them justification to do anything their leaders ask of them.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Firstmate


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

      totally agree!

      September 13, 2012 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • villageparrot

      I agree with this one absolutely.

      September 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • imakele

      Look, Scott whatever you are, you're not getting any takers here with your anti-religion speak. Calling us all mindless, stupid children who believe in fairytales just shows that you are relatively young, and have not yet come to grips with your own atheism, so you have to scream your points from the rooftops and belittle anyone who brings spiritualism into their lives as uneducated knuckle-draggers. In fact, I'm very educated, and my knuckles reach a very normal level about mid-thigh. I am a spiritualist, something that most uber-religious people call a non-committer, but that's fine with me. Religion has most likely been at the core of every war in the history of mankind, so that gives us religious types a leg-up over the atheists who obviously have not had a 'dog' in any fight to date. So, what I'm saying is, if you're not going to discuss the topic, go 'preach' to someone who cares.

      September 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zed

      Religion is generally more an excuse for war, rather then a root cause. The root cause tends to be economic, cultural and territorial. People forget how tribal human beings are. We identify with our 'group' and anyone outside it is the enemy, and therefore not to be treated with respect. Feelings harden and become laced with hatred. Until we learn to live and love those outside our group – hatred, intolerance and war will always be with us.

      September 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lardoggy

    I think this story has more info than the one on Fox and MSN,you see,I like to read them all, put the stories in a pot,stir and try to get the most out of it..

    September 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ScottCA

    Faith based religion is poison it ruins everything.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • yessireebob

      Is there a "non-faith' based religion?

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

      Could you perhaps define religion without attaching faith? What is faith-based religion?

      September 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Timofey

    We cannot bring them democracy. WHY? Because democracy is a "worldy" idea, we cannot negotiate with true muslims or terrorists because we can only offer "worldy things" of metrial origin.

    Any true Muslim will never betray his immortal soul for some free-market items like flat TV for all generated by bringing a democracy to the land. The Koran is VERY clear that Mohammad is the prophet of one true god, and Mohammad is very clear that all good muslims must kill their enemies. A muslim must peacefully coexists with anyone else thats not a Muslim, do not delude youreselves with ideas of finding common ground with them.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. greg

    R.I.P. Ambassador. What IDIOT puts U.S. diplomats on the ground without marines in an unstable nation on Sept 11th???

    September 12, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • yo yo

      300 million Americans, myself included, are asking the same question. It's a huge embarrassment when this country cannot provide adecuate protection for it's diplomats especially in a violent and unstable region.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. yo yo

    Folks, if the US cannot protect its ambassadors, you are on your own if you find yourselves traveling overseas. Know this before you even decide to make reservations for your next trip.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Timofey

    Oh and all you religion hating fools, you are almost no better then the Muslims. Your words prove it all, if it was up to you and you atheists were the majority I bet you would "cleanse" the world of us beleiving folks. So quit playing your stupid "I hate all relegions" card.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Really. Please give us ONE example of atheists killing anyone for being a believer. If you can't then you're just a blathering _.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tchr89

      @Alex: Atheistic governments have persecuted Christians. If you don't believe it, ask the Chinese Christians and anyone who suffered under Josef Stalin.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastapharian

      @tchr: that is a tired and ridiculous retort. Atheists never kill in the name of atheism, and that includes Stalin. Try again.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • yessireebob

      Maybe you should look at your own "words" a little more closely.

      September 13, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Zed

      Stalin, like Lenin and Mao, believed religion to the the 'opiate of the people'- one that needed to be removed in order to build an ideal communist society. To do this, Stalin promoted atheism, and began a terror campaign against religious believers. In 1937-38 alone, over 100,000 were shot during purges, including tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns.

      September 14, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Motoman

    The scariest thing of all is to imagine what President Romney would have done in this situation. Come to think of it, it's pretty scary to think of the harm he is capable of doing if he gets lucky enough to become President.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Yes, like maybe stay up to monitor the situation.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. turke

    Should the United States to respect the feelings of Muslims and their prophet Mohammed.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • ScottCA

      Freedom of speech trumps all arguments. No one has the right to attack anyone for speaking their mind. Ideas are meant to be challenged and thought about, not protected in ignorant isolation.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cathy Morris

      Because they show respect for Christians and Jews? This is America and we have freedom of speech. If they don't like it too bad.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      The attack was planned before the film. Hey Obama, Islamist Extremist understand force and not diplomacy. Thanks again for making us look weak.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • NeoGraphix

      I think your going to find out that the film was part of the plan

      September 13, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. dscon

    1-6 Obama killed Osama.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      9-11 Obama lets US Ambassador and three others Americans get killed. Make sure you report all his achievements

      September 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
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