BENGHAZI, Libya – Witnesses in Benghazi, Libya, provide a chronology for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate here that differs in significant ways from timelines released by U.S. officials in Washington, raising more questions about how the assault unfolded and the speed with which Americans at a nearby CIA annex responded to calls for help from the consulate.
The versions of the attack told here indicate that the last visitor who met with Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the assault on the consulate, departed at least 45 minutes earlier than U.S. officials in Washington have said. Witnesses here also suggest that the attack may have begun as many as 15 minutes earlier than officials in Washington have said.
Witnesses also said there was no indication that anyone in the U.S. diplomatic compound was aware before the assault that protests had broken out in neighboring Egypt over an inflammatory film about the Prophet Muhammad that was produced in the United States.
The differences in the timelines could mean that CIA officers stationed in a compound just 1.2 miles away may have waited as long as 40 minutes before setting out to assist the besieged consulate and might not have arrived there until more than an hour after the attack began. A timeline released by the CIA says help was dispatched after just 25 minutes and that it took the rescue squad 25 minutes to arrive.
At a minimum, the witness accounts suggest that after two months, the U.S. government still may not know the basic sequence of events and when key moments in the assault occurred.
On the evening of Sept. 11, Stevens met with the Turkish consul here, Ali Sait Akin, in what everyone agrees was his last official act. While State Department officials said Stevens escorted the Turkish consul out of the compound at 8:30 p.m., a guard at the compound and an official familiar with the meeting said Akin left at 7:45 p.m.
A security guard employed by a British contracting company, said he distinctly remembered the time of the meeting because about a half-hour before Akin was scheduled to meet with Stevens, the ambassador approached the guard and spoke with him. Stevens told him Akin would arrive at 6:30 p.m. for an hourlong meeting.
Akin arrived on time and the men met for an hour, the guard said. After the meeting, Stevens and Akin chatted for about 15 minutes as they strolled around the compound, and Akin left at 7:45 p.m.
The guard made a note of the time of Akin’s arrival and departure in a book, he said.
State Department officials have said the attack started at 9:40 p.m., a time that the CIA timeline also sets as the approximate beginning. A Pentagon account of its response said the assault started at 9:42 p.m.
But two guards at the compound told McClatchy-Tribune that the attack began earlier; one said at 9:25 p.m. and the other at 9:35.
One guard, who was at the main gate and placed the assault’s beginning at 9:25 p.m., said a colleague stationed at a side gate about 25 yards away had alerted him by radio that attackers were approaching. The guard said he stuck his head out a window in the compound’s wall and saw the attackers on one side of the road, near where his colleague was stationed, and Libyan police on the other side of the road fleeing. He said he hit the alarm button to alert the compound that it was under attack.
Behind the compound, a Western diplomat who was out to dinner heard a mortar round go off around 9:30 p.m., presumably after the attackers had arrived at the compound. When he was told that U.S. officials put the start of the attack at 9:40 p.m. he paused and said he was dubious. “It was no later than 9:40 p.m., maximum,” he said. The diplomat asked that he not be identified.