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. D

    The people who make the film should be also under investigation .

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

      Absolutely, the makers of the film should be tracked down. It is possible they are virulent anti-Muslims; but it is also possible that they were jihadists, who intended the film as a catalyst to start anti-American riots, perhaps even touch off a war of cultures. Despite their pious declarations, jihadists do not follow the teachings of Islam when they murder fellow Muslims.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Then the people who make films like this about Christians should be under investigation as well

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • NeoGraphix

      You miss the point about the investigation about the film. When you have the cast all coming forward about how the film was not what the script was all about and the main character goes from George to the Prophet Mohammed yeah I'd have to agree that an investigation is needed. This was not a normal made film and the end product was to incite hatred to the US.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • seventherty

      What law did they violate D

      September 14, 2012 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
    • seventherty

      How many times has Hollywood done the same. Changing the names of movies and interjecting words or sentences on the cutting room floor. This film should have never been given the power that it commands now and seen for what it is. Trash

      September 14, 2012 at 4:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. Timothy

    I just got done watching the movie trailer that enraged the Muslims in Libya to attack the embassy and kill the ambassador. I must confess its low budgeted, stupid and unhistorical. It tries to portray Mohammed as a gay, pedophile that talks to donkeys. The film even makes references to the gay community. To think that people were murdered over this trash is beyond me. This isn't matter of free speech, this pure and total propaganda and defamation. That fact that Mit Romney would defend it as free speech, speaks volumes about his intelligence. Did he even watch the trailer?

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

      Obama made the United States look weak once again by leaving our guard down on 9/11. Like it or not (which I don't), it is free speech, just like all of the liberal protest are that stink up the cities and leave trash behind.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kevin

    This is embarrassing for our country. Once again, "our leader" makes the United States looks weak because we got caught off guard (ON 9/11 AGAIN!!!) and we do nothing except send drones to "gather intelligence that will be turned over to Libyan officials for strikes, the official said". Libyan officials fear the Islamist Extremist, not the United States, and will only pretend to take action to keep "our leader" happy by giving our media something positive to say about "our leader" so he can be re-elected."

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

      How do you know how it played or will play out. Monday night quarter backing falls short of basic common sense.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I am just quoting the article because I use facts and not bias.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BigWaveAlex

    Hey, CNN has to try to make Obama look good, no matter what the situation.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephen123

      Ill make you a deal: Obama takes the blame for not being prepared for this if Bush and his fellow republicans take the blame for not being prepared for September 11th. Deal?

      September 13, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Al Bundy

      The facts? Lol, I wouldn't expect to find them here either.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Detect language

      Because Obama is the obvioos stupid ELEPHANT in the room.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • James Alexander

      Is it really that obvious?

      It couldn't be MORE obvious.

      How about some more articles about that SEAL book on the fake Osama Bin Laden raid? Obama needs to have his one perceived accomplishment (even if faked) to be paraded in front of everyone, just in time for the election.

      Obama has ADDED more to the public debt than the first 41 Presidents COMBINED.

      Obama has signed an Executive Order allowing an assassination list. (Hitler-approved!)

      Obama has signed the NDAA allowing American citizens to be held indefinitely with no charges filed and no legal recourse.

      These three things that I have listed are really ALL we need to know about Obama in time for the election.

      I don't know what Obama means in Kenyan, but in English, it means traitor.

      September 13, 2012 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • WoweeZowee

      At least he hasn't spent the past 10 years apologizing for 'Merica, like Mitt Romney! That's why he lost several state primary elections earlier this year – because real conservatives were tired of Mitt's relentless efforts to convince foreigners that America needs to apologize for its values. Romney reportedly told a Swiss banker that he was "super sorry about having to open a new account so late at night, but those American tax laws are really pinching me!"

      September 14, 2012 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      and u fail at your Obama whatever attempt.... It is ok for u to admit goerge wmd bush hurt u bad so badly... call Dr Phil he can talk it out with u so u dont have to keep barking at innocent people.

      September 14, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  5. BigWaveAlex

    Carter gave us a militant islamic Iran. Obama will give us a militant islamic nuclear Iran, a militant islamic Egypt and a militant islamic Libya.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      It is a little to late to use the word "will". Great post!

      September 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. USMC

    1) american military power, damn best
    2) bacon
    3) drones
    4) we killed osama so we'll them too
    5) god bless america and none others
    6) team america world police: america f* yeah!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Maybe "our Leader" failed to increase security because he was afraid it would upset "our allies".

      September 12, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bromley Jennette

    Warned as early as '08? Why were there not Marines posted there in force? It's part of thier job, one that they gladly accept, but someone has to send them there!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hayden

      There are only a few Marines at each embassy, NEO's and things of that nature come from the MEU's and can get there within a day. More than likely the quick reaction force is which ever East Coast MEU is on a MED float, they will be a show of force and run the NEO. From the reports the fire killed him, not like the USMC was over ran in the embassy...I'm sure they are planning a response, one you may never hear about.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. akorage

    If you can't identify the filmer, just follow the money. Whoever doled out cash knows who the producer is and maybe where to find him. If you light up their skin, they'll roll on him, That's tough!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Perhaps learn to read. The film had nothing to do with the attack.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Paul

    This has nothing to do with people protesting a film. That was a diversion. This is the consequences of Obama's failed Arab Spring.

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

      Yes, it says that clearly in the article. Amazing how many people don't seem to be able to comprehend.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

    I have a couple of questions to ask. What were the Marine detachment at that compound doing at the time of the attack?
    Why was an apology first offered by our President? Later our illustrious leader Mr. Obama, released another statement saying the attackers would be captured and tried, how does he expect this to happen? Romney, is critized for making a statement very shortly after this was all made public, what was he supposed to do put duck tape on his mouth and say nothing, that is not what a leader should do is keep quiet. Last, if the President apologizes, then we should all get down on our knees and BEG the Muslims for forgiveness. We have weak cowards running this country, you make me SICK!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NewYorker

    I think we need to punish whoever is doing these attacks. Either drop bombs or halt aid, anything to stop these psychopaths from doing any further damage.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ben F

    1. Al CIAda was created by the US black ops
    2. still controlled by them too
    3. took away your freedom by the patriot act
    4. watching you now
    5. have plans for you
    6. you get what you deserve (no freedom or security)

    September 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Careful, I think you have your tinfoil hat on backwards.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EXperience

    Americans just shot them in the foot. Freedom of expression or freedom of speech in a civilized world is still based on mutual respect and not on insulting each other. May be one day the Americans will understand this simple concept but for now some innocent people still have to die to protect that stupidity.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vignesh

      No I'm pretty sure freedom of speech implies the right to insult everybody. The only thing you can't do is shout fire in a crowded movie theatre if there isn't one.

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

      Come to the south and let us show you freedom of speech

      September 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigWaveAlex

      Christianity and other religions are insulted daily in Muslim countries in newspapers, film, cartoons, etc. Christians are imprisoned for merely being Christian. That would not be an excuse for violence against any innocents, so to suggest that a mere movie made by one fringe group justifies any kind of violence is sheer insanity.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      All religions, including Islam and Christianity are false and built on lies, greed, and political motives. There is nothing wrong with exposing these facts via a right to free speech. People can opt to retaliate in the opinions section vs random killing and burning.

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

      Go back to your cave, you're about as intelligent as a bucket of rocks.

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

      Did you write Obama's apology?

      September 13, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. Christopher

    If you ban free speech and excuse Muslim terrorism by catering to their "sensitivities" like CNN has done time and time again, they you are going to legitimize potential Christian terrorists and others to commit murder when they feel insulted. If you want to ban free speech, you are going to justify even more murder by people who would otherwise hold back when they are insulted and disrespected. Banning free speech is a very very bad idea. Leftists don't think about the consequences of their actions which shows narrow mindedness and low intellect.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ET

      Christian Terrorist...... where did that come from.

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

      I agree 100% with Christopher this unknown movie director needs to be imprison for irresponsible conduct

      September 12, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Letstartanotherwar

      I think the investigation of the Libya situation should include following the money trail that supported this film sounds like a classic Carl Rove maneuver. After watching Fox, MSNBC, CNN I have come to the conclusion the right will do anything to regain control.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ...To the shores of Tripoli...

    We (the Marine Corps) will find ourselves in Libya once again soon, and deservedly so. And when we do find our way back there, the target will find itself reminded of why there "is no better friend, no worse enemy."

    September 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
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