WASHINGTON (AP) — Well-armed Libyan extremists launched a sustained attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday, killing four State Department employees, including the American ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and foreign service officer Sean Smith, and wounding three others.
The consulate, like all other U.S. diplomatic missions around the world, conducted a pre-9/11 anniversary security check. It found no imminent threat and therefore no need to boost security around the anniversary, according to senior U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the reporting of the incident is still preliminary.
What follows is a rough timeline of the attack on the consulate, according to the officials. The consulate consists of a main building and a nearby annex, each of which are protected by local Libyan guard force, a physical perimeter barrier and a “robust” American security presence inside the compounds. All times are local Benghazi time.
10:00 p.m. Tuesday — The main consulate building begins began taking fire from unknown Libyan extremists. There are about 25 to 30 employees in the consulate and the annex at the time of the attack.
10:15 p.m. — Attackers gain access to main consulate building and set compound on fire. In the ensuring chaos, many escape the building, but Stevens, Smith and a regional security officer remain inside. They become separated due to heavy smoke and confusion while trying to evacuate. The security officer makes it outside and he and others from the consulate and annex go back into the building to try to rescue Stevens and Smith. They find Smith dead and pull him out but are forced by the flames, smoke and gunfire to withdraw before they can locate Stevens.
10:45 p.m. — A group of security officers from the annex try to take the consulate building back from the attackers, but they are repelled.
11:20 p.m. — U.S. and Libyan forces drive the attackers out of consulate and retake the main building. Everyone rescued is brought to the annex.
Midnight — The annex comes under heavy fire from the attackers. The shooting lasts more than two hours during which the other two Americans are killed and two Americans are wounded.
2:30 a.m. Wednesday — Libyan and U.S. security forces retake the annex. Officials believe that Stevens got out or was pulled out of the main consulate building during the battle for the annex and was taken to the hospital. The officials do not know if Stevens was alive when he arrived at the hospital.
6:00 a.m. — U.S. officials are told that Stevens is dead but are not able to confirm it immediately because they have not seen the body. The body is returned to U.S. personnel at the Benghazi airport at dawn. A chartered plane comes from Tripoli to Benghazi and evacuates all the consulate staff, the wounded and the remains to Tripoli.
They are all going to Ramstein, Germany. The uninjured will stay in Europe pending a security review, the wounded will be treated there at a U.S. military facility and the remains of the dead will be repatriated to the U.S.
In the aftermath of the attack, staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli has been reduced to emergency levels and the U.S. has requested additional security from the Libyans. Elsewhere, all U.S. diplomatic missions around the world were ordered to review their security postures and take additional measures if needed.