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. brianp55

    Here's what the protesters need to break into our embassy and you die. Problem solved.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 4real?

    "Six things to know about attack that killed Ambassador Stevens" as reported by a very high ranking official who was there and actually witnessed these events.


    This article, including the byline is rife with errors. I think even the average sheeple is smart enough to know better.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. maltesefalconx9

    Both attacks were the work of izraeelian intelligence to make O'Bama look bad.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • charles

      Do you have any kind of education or knowledge about the middle east, that was just ignorant white supremist jibberish.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      Yes, the "Mossad " did it! Get a grip on reality . What dont you understand ???? It is the end of America as you or I know it, they are against everyone who isn't Muslim . Actually it reminds me of the late 30s in Germany they also didn't like anyone except themselves .

      September 12, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • maltesefalconx9

      So maybe izraeelian intelligence did have somethin to do with it.
      There were exactly two responses. Ben and Abraham tryingt to use the insanity defense.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. Buck OFama

    IF this is really the work of Al Qaeda, THEN the Obama administration has screwed up. Why? Because it shows that there aren't enough spy boots on the ground gathering intel to keep abreast of Al Qaeda's operations. I.e. Obama has spent too much time with predator drone attacks and not enough with good old fashioned spying. Obama, wallowing in the hubris of OBL's death, has dropped his guard.

    IF it is not AQ's operation, then Obama has still screwed up by not getting up to date intel on a volatile country to protect American assets. Also, folks are wondering why the Marine guard wasn't beefed up.

    I don't see a scenario yet where Obama isn't at fault. Can't blame it on Bush. Can't blame it on Congress. Can't blame it on Hillary. And blaming it on Romney will make Obama look very small and impotent.

    More Obama is not the cure for the nation's ills –

    http: //www .youtube .com /embed/a4nvhAZ0vr0

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

      but you tube is?

      September 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • sweetjazz3

      Congratulations on joining the Blame America first team! Did you ever think that instead of looking to blame Obama, that it was the fault of the terrorists who attacked the embassy?

      You live in a fantasy world if you think anyone can stop every terror attempt before it happens. So far, the Obama administration has responded swiftly in condemning the attack, the US assets in the region have begun an investigation, and the greatest military in the world is being deployed to bring justice to those responsible. This is how it should be.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • TiredOfPaying

      What a bunch of hogwash! I suggest you learn a little about military docritne and tactics. During WWII, there was a saying 'the bomber always gets through.' The only way to 'prevent' all attacks would be to implant chips in every person, which not only recorded their position and conversations in the area but also their thoughts. Then if they think 'bad' thoughts you just fry the chip (and their brain along with it.) Otherwise, some lone wolf or group will always be able to plan and execute attacks.

      Personally, I consider such chips as a much greater evil than 20 violent jihiadists on the other side of the planet.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • LAMONT

      It's so funny tht any one can say u CAN'T blame Bush....who was on watch when Al-Queda got their biggest score against us...remember 9-11?...Guess not...Yeah the easiest excuse everybody has now is blame Obama...Yeah that's it...GIVE ME A BREAK.....AND like someone already posted on here...when u go overseas as an American u shld b on guard 24/7...What part of They HATE AMERICANS dnt people get...FINALLY....THERE IS A GOD AND WE SHALL ALL SEE ON JUDGEMENT DAY!!!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. lmj

    There are so many pictures on CNN? Why are they not showing the pictures of what looks like the dead ambassador and with all the cell phones in the hands and mouths of the so-called rescuers, it appears they are trying to take pictures of their trophy instread of rescuing him!!

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

      And with all those people around, he couldn't be properly carried. They had to drag him.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. Gandhian

    when we know that there are non-tolerant, extremist and terrorists in the Muslim communities and countries in most parts of the Nations rules by Muslims who are also engaged in killing their own peace loving people, then why should some one do something to provoke the extremists and terrorists and to put our innocent people at risk and at harms way? Also in most of those Countries we have peace loving Christians and also Jews in minority who can hardly save themselves from the radical militants and terrorists as the terrorists have taken their own peace loving majority as hostage. Then why those who living in a safe havens in America and Europe much away from those extremists and terrorists should do any thing to put those minority Christians and other non-Muslims in harms way and fear?

    September 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      Put the blame where it goes – these animals hate the west and do not need an excuse to revolt and kill. We need a clear and strong message from the White House which of course we will not see.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      So because Muslims have shown they are incapable of acting civilized, the non-Muslim world should modify its behavior rather than expecting Muslims to not go on a murderous rampage every time they get upset?

      September 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredOfPaying

      How about because Islam is a totally made-up cult which brainwashes its members into violent acts, and therefore needs to be fought? Your approach would be the equalivalent of not talking about child molesters and therefore there would not be any.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. ScottCA

    All this violence is caused by the ignorance bred of religion.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jack

    Chris's death is a terrible tragedy, the staffers lost were just as somber and sad, a sad tragedy for our country. Those who knew them, our hearts go out to them in their pain. As we mourn these servicemen we look at those wishing to profit from their deaths – Mitt Romney – could not wait for families to be notified before using this tragedy to use it as a political chip – this weak man, who has no ideas or plan of his own, hijacked the deaths of heroes for his own personal gain – how can one allow such a beast to campaign for the leadership of a great nation? Please GOP, change your selection, we cannot possibly vote for such an individual, his Mormon cult religion is bad enough but seeing his reaction to a tragedy makes him virtually impossible to back.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    I say we investigate people who make films about Christians and Jews as well. Oh yeah, they won't blow us up if they get mad though. My bad.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Supertiger

    It was wasn't about the film so no I don't buy it. Just like in Eygypt they also stormed the embassy, tore down our flag, and put an al-Qaeda flag up in it's place. All should have been shot it's the only thing that religion of peace understands. Fight terror with terror. If they know that Muslims are going to die at random because of their attacks them Muslims will stop supporting them.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. amazed

    dumb and crazy seems to be the norm for these responses ...

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

    Wake up to the war propaganda America. They're demonizing Islam so they can lead a broader war in the middle east. Our government doesn't care if your son's and daughter's in uniform die for their filthy interests.

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

      It is not OUR actions that demonize Islam – its quite capable of doing that all by itself. Patton had the right idea... we dont decide to die for our country, we make others die for thiers. My only hope is that if we do have to fight more wars, we stop pulling our punches and just flatten the countries of our enemies. Let them feel and see the consequences of radical Islam. No more of this 'Mouse that Roared' type of foreign policy where people GAIN by losing a war to America.

      September 13, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. zzlangerhans

    "The good thing about this is the majority – 95, 98% of the Libyan people – care not for this."

    That's the problem, eloquently stated by the Libyan ambassador to the US. You have 2-5% of extremists committing murder and mayhem, and then the other 95-98% who care not for it, but aren't bothered by it enough to take any kind of stand against it. There's no hope for a completely unprincipled society.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredOfPaying

      Actually I support his statement. There are always a small percentage of people who are in complete opposition to what the reset of the world thinks is 'right.' That small percentage can be dealt with. Its when the ENTIRE religion of Islam refuses to self-correct these radicals, instead supporting them by turning a blind eye, that I have a problem with.

      Until the mythical 'moderate muslims' start handing over the radicals, until the Immans read a list of suicide bombers at each service and state that they will NOT be going to paridise, and until those who commit such violent acts are considered evil instead of good – Until those things happen I blame the entire religion of Islam. The entire religion is as guilty as the prision guards at the death camps who said 'I was only following orders.'

      September 13, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. ruegger

    What do people really expect? We took out one of their high-ranking jihadists and they got their revenge by killing the ambassador. This is simply the price for starting wars and inciting violence in countries all over the world. People who blame Obama need to look at the bigger picture. Until Americans alter their foreign policy and end their 21st century imperialist mission, these types of incidents will continue to happen. Instead of blaming others, how about you take a look at yourself and realize that American foreign policy has caused these extremists to react.

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

      We killed their head aka Osama?? The last thing I remember he killed more then 3000 people in NYC ,are you compering us to terrorists ?? You should be ashamed of yourself to even think about it like that . Are you saying we deserve this attack ?!?!?! I hope you are not from here ( USA) , people like you destroyed our free country

      September 13, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Serg

      So the next time obama makes a speech you can stand next to him and appologize for our actions. Maybe you can do it in unison. Sort of a duet without music. WE do not make policy. Your president and his people do. They need the revamping.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. maltesefalconx9

    The "movie" is Net&yahoo and the assassination of Stevens is net&yahoo as well.
    I think Mr net&yahoo has gone unexamined for far too long. izraeel is not Mr net&yahoo.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
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