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. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    RIOTING in the streets to influence world public opinion was an abject failure in the US. Too bad the 4th estate propagated another impression. 'Sides, the world can't save anybody.

    September 15, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Anil Jadhav Alibag

    It appears to be a militants' planned attack. and planned to spread anti US violence. The original movie seems altered to suit the purpose for anti US sentiments.Militants appear to have been directly and purposefully connected to the altered movie.knowing the sensitive nature of Islamist culture the front was used as insult to Islam.

    September 15, 2012 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. John

    You seem like the only commentator with any common sense. Thank you for restoring my faith in the citizens of our United States, I was a little weary after reading most of these comments.

    September 15, 2012 at 3:24 am | Report abuse |
  4. Victor Tembwe

    That is very bad to hear about the death of an inoncent person. But I would like to say something on this subject.
    Muslim poeple are very wrong by protesting in that way . At the other hand , the amrican government has created the hate all over the world against inoncent americain people . Here in Congo DR, we found normal to burry our deaths every day because of american government by using rwandese. By ourselves ,we can do something better for our nation ;unfortunatly we can't as long as american government is interfering in our problems. Please try to change your politics so that things will be much better

    September 15, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tish

    I haven't researched this, but does anyone know why or how much financial support we send to ALL of these countries?

    September 15, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bonnie

    If the attack went on for 4 hours, where was the Libyan government?

    September 15, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ben

    At least the US- gouverment is sending troups to reinforce the Consulate!!!!
    German Consulate was set on fire, too. Reaction of Germany: crying – baby. But no Army.
    My Idea: Leave those Countrys where the Consulate been attacked. Do not support them with guns, armunition,healtcare or medecine. No foot- nothing.
    We are not "nonbelivers"- they are "easy belivers" Just belive letters in a book, do not use the brain..

    September 15, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. brian

    how can the U.S. and hillary clinton be shocked at these attacks. every islamist fundamentalist in the world says to kill infidels and "death to america". the attackers were just acting on what they say everyday. and on the anniversary of sept. 11th we should have known something could have happened. this is what america gets for bowing to the king of saudi arabia and abondoning israel in the mideast. we claim we are israels biggest supporter yat we are also friends with saudi arabia and egypt. we try and straddle the fence, but got bit in the butt by one side. trying to rule the world and be the new roman empire has consequences.

    September 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ICU

    The Sept 11 event was pre-planned. The film was just a tool catalyst to make it appear the film would be the trigger to make the event happen. Reading some of the post's here, I see a lot of liberal type of thinking that somehow seems to to point out to make everything ok. Some say they don't believe in Jesus, some don't believe in anything but have freinds in every facet of the point of any religion they wish to protect. To say anything of any religious nature seems to produce fury in all minds if it does not go along with their way of thinking. There is a real Good vs Evil in the world today
    that anyone would agree on. If I choose a Islam way of thinking, Beheading, honor killing,and anything against the Koran seems to be accepted, why, because the entire world has seen it. Now the Christian view. The Christians do not look to kill, willing to help even the Countries that want to kill us. Knowing those two views,what world would you want to live in. One of peace or the other.

    September 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • infowraith

      WHATEVER. Christians dont look to kill? Hmm...maybe you need to check your history books son. They are the MASTERS at murdering innocents.. Crusades anyone? Inquisition anyone? Catholic church anyone?

      September 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • docbob01

      I agree that Christians do not look to kill. I also agree that many have been killed by people calling themselves Christians and in the name of Christianity. We should not confuse the two. The first Christians were called that because of their committment to living according to the teachings of Jesus. Many years later, when Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, a new type of "Christian" arose. This new type of Christian was more about building the religion and supporting the "Church" than it was about following the teachings of Christ. To the old brand of Christian, it would have been impossible to kill an "unbeliever," and still follow Jesus' teaching to "do unto others as you would have then do to you" or "love your neighbor as yourself." But, the new type of Christian seems to think it his/her patriotic duty to kill the infidel, and has over these last two thousand years become very proficient at killing and justifying it. It is the new type of "Christian" that was responsible for the Crusades, inquisition and such. Oh, by the way, Jesus gave us a good way to distinguish the old type of Christian from the new. He said "by this men will know that you are my disciples, in that you have love for one another."

      September 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ruppert Jenkins

      infowraith, it is always so pathetic when you Islam apologists always have to go back over 300 years to give examples of Christians killing Muslims. All the while, Muslims are killing everyone TODAY. Pathetic.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • truthmustbetold

      the monsters of the current world with murder rates are christian America they killed i million Iraqis and more than 1 million afghans as well as wanting to wipe out whole of Palestine off the planet by through their lovebird(israhell) to honor 9/11 victims

      September 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheTruth

      Why the supposed furor now – the video was posted more than 6 months ago and no one cared. Coincidence that this happened on 9-11? Or that a police officer was seen taking photos of the compound just hours before the attack? Or that mortars and rocket-propelled grenades were used (mortars require precise measuements of distance for accuracy and all witnesses state that the mortar fire was very accurate). Or that the murderers knew where the safe house was and attacked it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades as well (again, very accurate fire)? Our dead ambassador was dragged through the streets for 10 hours while countless people took pictures. Why weren't these facts stated in the article?

      September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. infowraith

    Houston Native...

    You are SOOOOOO brainwashed my fellow brother.

    September 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Apachekid

      Maybe your the one who should read up on history?.It was the muslims that were killing the Crishtians first that was the reason for the crusades to begin with.

      September 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • herman mallari

      Why do CNN demonizing free speech by digging dirt on the writer of this ridiculous short movie? It is the stupid deep belief of this administration to the idea of John Lennon's song "imgine"! Wake up people, you are still living in a dream world of fantasies and day-daydreaming!

      September 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. aung oo

    History has proven that the majority of the Islams do not tread to kill any life being (animals or human). Is this what they have been taught or practised?

    September 16, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • GaiaGenesis

      @Aung OO, so you are implying that Muslims are vegans, don't kill animals? I think you are sadly mistaken; you must be thinking of most Hindus.

      September 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. FRANK OFILI

    The producer of the film must be smiling to the banks by now. Perhaps that was the main objective of producing the offending video in the first place. Damned callous and insensitive I must say.

    September 16, 2012 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. logicmuch

    Learn English. Learn history. Please learn something.

    September 16, 2012 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. Unamundo

    If the attack lasted 4 hours, that was plenty of time to call in backup air support–helicopters–from American naval vessels in the area. Why wasn't that done? We give billions in foreign aid–money borrowed from other nations–and we can't beef up security in a consulate like Benghazi. What does that tell you about how Obama handles money or about his priorities? He has time to go play golf but no time to sit down and review our poorly defended consulates. Huntsman brought this to the fore this week. You assign a guy to go out into the middle of nowhere and don't give him security. Obama must have rocks in his brain. Then you and your Secretary of State give a couple of speeches and bury the poor souls. Bury them; "now let's go on with our lives," they say. Let's get the killers. It's like the rancher who leaves the barn door open and the horse escapes. Then after he escapes, he closes the barn door. So Obama now wants to close the barn door? Enough stupidity!

    September 16, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • TheTruth

      It seems that he was busy at a rally in Las Vegas (which he didn't interrupt) – but he did compare his supporters to the poeple at our embassy.

      September 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • herman mallari

      It is election year and this administration don't want toshow its foreign policy weaknesses as failures, it is as simple as that. Darn, just blame a short movie, that is hollywood t its best... I agree, with your prmise. Qetions like these should be dircted o this administration by the edia... like CNZn, instead of digging dirt to the innocent writer of this movie. Wr are talking free speech guys... tt is hy you andnothers like me can xpress opinions like this.

      September 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Apachekid

    For people that are jew haters they kill a lot of christains?

    September 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
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