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. sithlord1

    Obama started the Libya crap.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin lanigan

      Not really.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Kathy

      Really???? Then why is it that , by the looks of Ambassador Stevens abdomen that he was curled up in a ball trying to protect himself from injury? Look at the bruise pattern. He was clearly trying to protect himself.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  2. Reload

    CNN Pympn for the Prez. So much for real reporting.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JP

    So a safe room in a US embassy in a troubled region didn't have ventilation filtration or sealed with it's own oxygen source?

    September 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Letstalkfacts

      Perhaps it was damaged during the attack

      September 13, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. kurakaman

    Seems only Gaddafi knew how to handle those head strong thugs of Libya. Gaddafi was "BAD" but he never murdered a diplomate that too US diplomate !!! US spent so much on Libya, for the Libyan people, finally what we got, murdered diplomate and another WAR in progress...Something to think about !!

    September 12, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • damo12345

      Stop talking nonsense. The Libyan people had a democratic election and religious extremists lost. They lost soundly. They were demolished. The Libyan people were given a chance to say what sort of government they wanted, and they completely and utterly rejected violent extremists.

      Are there still radicals in the country? Yes, obviously. But it is repugnantly foolish to say that the country was better off under the brutal leadership of Gaddafi. With help from the US and its allies, Libya has a chance to be a moderate voice in the region, something desperately needed. To condemn the entire country is to give the terrorists exactly what they wanted.

      Because they lost so completely in the elections, and have been so rejected by the people of Libya, their only hope of gaining a foothold in the country is to try and cut off US aid. Without US aid the people of Libya might be forced to accept help from extremist groups, giving them an opening to mold the country in their twisted image. By condemning the government for helping the rebels defeat Gaddafi, and by calling on the government to stop aiding Libya due to the actions of a tiny minority, you are doing PRECISELY what the terrorists wanted you to do.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. sly

    I want this coward(movie director) to be imprison enough of this nonsense

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

      WHY? for free expression? He or she did not kill those innocent people. The muslims did

      September 13, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • damo12345

      @Jason
      It may just have been free expression, but I'm beginning to have my doubts. Actors were misled, the supposed producer doesn't exist, a clumsy attempt was made to claim that this movie was made by a Jewish man with funding from Jewish leaders (blatantly untrue), and it "mysteriously" was dubbed into Arabic. I have to wonder if the people who made this were doing it precisely because they knew it could generate a violent response, and hoped to benefit from it in some way.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. Marie Odele

    I am Canadian and I find people who believe in conspiracy's are irresponsible

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

      Interesting comment. Can you detail your comment a bit further so we are clear in what manner you mean.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Sophie

    Libya knew the war was winding down in Afghanistan, so they want to scam us into a war with them and for money.
    They also know we hate violence, so violence was done to get our attention. If we stop all aid to these 2bit countrys we
    would be better off. Then of course beef up US security and not let the flea bags enter our borders. To hell with them.
    We should also get a montyly report from expenditures in Afghanistan, when we see "waste", we should stop the aid there also. It's time to get really bold. We have kissed butt to too many countrys, as is.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • damo12345

      Stop talking nonsense. This was not the action of "Libya". The people of Libya voted in a democratic election, and extremists were completely and utterly defeated. When offered a chance to chose their own government, the people of Libya let it be known they wanted to be a moderate country, with no room for extremists in the government.

      You are doing precisely what the terrorists wanted you to do. When the US aided the Afghan people in overthrowing Soviet rule, the US left the region without giving aid to reconstruction. With nowhere else to turn to, people accepted help from religious extremists, who created the Afghanistan that was home to Osama bin Ladin for years.

      The terrorists are hoping to drive the US out of Libya. They hope to make people like you pressure the government into cutting off aid. Without help from the US, the people of Libya might find themselves forced to reach out to the extremists they have thus far rejected. We must NOT allow that to happen. This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to providing Libya with the help it needs to rebuild.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr Woo

      Libya has the 5th largest oil reserves in the world. They are not a 'two-bit' country. Their people are generally well educated but they have been living under a dictator for 40+ years. They have a elected a moderate government and want closer ties to the west and the west wants these closer ties. They are not on your border. They are on the other side of the world. The group that attacked the consulate does not represent the desires of the Libyan people and I would suspect that they are trying to keep the Libyans from achieving these closer ties. In any situation like this, it is alway necessary to get all the facts before coming up with an opinion. Clearly you have chosen not to do so and your post reflects this. Not to worry, though. Your hero Mitt's opinion seems to be just as uninformed as yours.

      September 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe

    Wow..something reall REALY stinks on this one..what is the real stroy behind this film and unknown producer Bacile?? Anyone think someone maybe decided it was time to stir the hornets nest?

    September 13, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jason

    When I see muslims calling the US the great Satan all I can think is how deranged of thinking they have to call the United States that yet they are out killing innocent people. Muslims you need to join the global community and practice tolerance to other people's views. totally deranged "satanic" thinking from the muslims who did this.

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

      You mean the way we are so tolerant in this country towards gay rights groups, illegal aliens, and the like?

      September 13, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr Woo

      You recently had a white supremecist gun down six people in their place of worship. Does he represent the viewpoint of the average American?

      September 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill Clinton

    Y Paki are so quiet, this time ?

    September 13, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Matt

    Where was the Marine security detail that should have been guarding the consulate? I haven't heard anything of Marines engaging the attackers... they weren't there. Who the hell would leave a US consulate in a Middle Eastern country that has just emerged from a half-year of civil war with unrestricted access to arms completely unguarded without a Marine security detail??

    September 13, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Serg

      Many are using local security.

      September 13, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. George Bailey

    Christian terrorist.... Good grief, not another denomination!

    September 13, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. DR. YO YO

    Gross Negligent Homicide

    September 13, 2012 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bill Clinton

    FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE. Keep a safe distance from any creature named Mohmad. Or riots in Pakistan.

    September 13, 2012 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  15. joeblow

    Will someone please ask the right questions:

    1. Why, on the anniversary of 9/11, was the US ambassador in the Benghazi consulate protected only by local security? Consulates are low priority targets containing only State Department staff and as such have little protection.

    2. Why was the ambassador not in the Tripoli embassy protected by a detachment of US Marines? Remember, embassies contain high value targets and information.

    3. Did the embassy security chief and the Marine ranking officer not advise the Ambassador not to leave the embassy on the 9/11 anniversary? Surely both were aware of the heightened danger that day.

    4. Did the Ambassador ignore his advisers advice? Was he informed of the Marine officers almost certain reluctance to split his force when under a heightened state of alert?

    5. How far in advance was the Ambassadors trip to Benghazi planned? Was the trip publicized. Surely, given the 9/11 anniversary, the Ambassador's movements that day were supposed to be confidential. If so, how did a force of 20 well armed, trained and coordinated insurgents/rebels/ fanatics become aware of his presence in Benghazi in time to carry out the obviously well planned attack on the consulate?

    There seems to be more to this attack than meets the eye and there definitely seems to be more to the way the Ambassador and his staff and security force behaved than has been reported.

    It seems like a classic case of FUBAR.

    But then again I may be wrong!

    September 13, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Juvenal451

      Some good questions. I believe it has been established that at least some of the security detail were not Marines, but contractors, albeit ex-Navy Seals. That's the way it works these days.

      September 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
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