Witnesses recount ‘organized’ attack on US Consulate in Libya

Updated 29 October 2012

Witnesses recount ‘organized’ attack on US Consulate in Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya: It began around nightfall on Sept. 11 with around 150 bearded gunmen, some wearing the Afghan-style tunics favored by militants, sealing off the streets leading to the US Consulate in Benghazi. They set up roadblocks with pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, according to witnesses.
The trucks bore the logo of Ansar Al-Shariah, a powerful local group of militants who worked with the municipal government to manage security in Benghazi.
There was no sign of a spontaneous protest against an American-made anti-Islam movie. But a lawyer passing by the scene said he saw the militants gathering around 20 youths from nearby to chant against the film. Within an hour or so, the assault began, guns blazing as the militants blasted into the compound.
One of the consulate’s private Libyan guards said masked militants grabbed him and beat him, one of them calling him “an infidel protecting infidels who insulted the prophet.”
The witness accounts gathered by The Associated Press give a from-the-ground perspective for the sharply partisan debate in the US over the attack that left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. They corroborate the conclusion largely reached by American officials that it was a planned militant assault. But they also suggest the militants may have used the film controversy as a cover for the attack.
Within 24 hours of the attack, both the embassy in Tripoli and the CIA station chief sent word to Washington that it was a planned militant attack. Still, days later, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the attack began as a spontaneous protest over the film.
As that debate roiled, the actual events — and their meaning — became somewhat skewed in the mouths of politicians. One assumption often made in the back-and-forth is that if the attack was planned, then it must have been linked to Al-Qaeda.
The past week, the AP has gathered accounts from five witnesses, including one of the embassy guards and several people living next door to the consulate compound who were present when the militants first moved in. Most spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals for talking about the attack.
The neighbors all described the militants setting up checkpoints around the compound at about 8 p.m. The State Department’s timeline says the attack itself began at around 9:40 p.m.
Khaled Al-Haddar, a lawyer who passed by the scene as he headed to his nearby home, said he saw the fighters gathering a few youths from among passers-by and urged them to chant against the film.
“I am certain they had planned to do something like this, I don’t know if it was hours or days, but it was definitely planned,” said Al-Haddar. “From the way they set up the checkpoints and gathered people, it was very professional.”
The guard said he saw no protesters. He heard a few shouts of “God is great,” then a barrage of automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades began, along with barrages from heavy machine guns mounted on trucks.
The attackers set fire to the main consulate building. Stevens and another staffer, caught inside amid the confusion, died of smoke inhalation.
The attack came from the front and the side. A neighbor whose house is on side of the consulate compound said militants with their faces wrapped in scarves attacking.
Because of the checkpoints, “it felt like our neighborhood was occupied, no one could get out or in,” he said.
The effectiveness of the roadblocks was later revealed in the State Department’s account of the evacuation. It described how the rescue force came under heavy fire and grenade attacks as they tried to leave the consulate area.
They evacuated staffers to a security compound across town, where they continued to come under fire. A precision mortar hit the compound’s building at 4 a.m., killing two other Americans.
A day after the Benghazi attack, an unidentified Ansar Al-Shariah spokesman said the militia was not involved “as an organization” — leaving open the possibility members were involved. He praised the attack as a popular “uprising” sparked by the anti-Islam film, further propagating the image of a mob attack against the consulate.


A shattered Beirut emerges from the rubble stunned, wounded

Updated 13 min 2 sec ago

A shattered Beirut emerges from the rubble stunned, wounded

  • Tuesday’s explosion was the worst the city has ever seen
  • Lebanon was already mired in a severe economic crisis

BEIRUT: Residents of Beirut — stunned, sleepless and stoic — emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes.
The sound of ambulance sirens and the shoveling of glass and rubble could be heard across the Lebanese capital. Almost nothing was left untouched by the blast, which obliterated the port and sent a tide of destruction through the city center.
Elegant stone buildings, fashionable shopping districts and long stretches of the famed seaside promenade were reduced to rubble within seconds of Tuesday’s blast.
The explosion appeared to have been caused by a blaze at a fireworks warehouse that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at the port since 2013. But many blamed the catastrophe on the country’s long-entrenched political class, with some saying it marked the final straw after decades of corruption and neglect.

At least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded. The number of dead was expected to rise as rescuers sifted through the rubble.
“Beirut is gone” said Mohammed Saad, an out-of-town driver making his way through the mangled streets.
“We don’t deserve this,” said Riwa Baltagi, a 23-year-old who was helping friends retrieve valuables from their demolished homes.
Some of the worst damage was in the leafy neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael and Gemayzeh, where the blast damaged some of the few historic buildings that survived the 1975-1990 civil war. Balconies had dropped to street level, where shops and restaurants were buried and chairs and tables turned upside down.
“I have nowhere to go,” a woman said as she wept in what remained of her home in Gemayzeh. “What am I supposed to do?” she screamed into her mobile phone.

A statue representing the Lebanese expatriate is seen in front of a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

Furniture and cushions were strewn along the streets amid the endless shards of glass. The damage could be seen across town in the popular shopping district of Hamra, and at the international airport south of the city. The blast could be felt as far off as Cyprus, a Mediterranean island some 200 kilometers (120 miles) away.
Few lamented the damage at the headquarters of the state electricity company, a symbol of the corruption and poor governance that has bedeviled Lebanon since the end of the war. Many blamed the latest catastrophe on the country’s long-entrenched political class.
“They are so irresponsible that they ended up destroying Beirut,” said Sana, a retired schoolteacher who was preparing to leave her heavily damaged apartment in Mar Mikhael. “I worked for 40 years to make this home and they destroyed it for me in less than a minute.”
“The political class must go. This country is becoming totally hopeless,” she said. “It cannot get worse.”
Lebanon was already mired in a severe economic crisis, with soaring unemployment and a plunging exchange rate that had erased many people’s life savings. The blast demolished a major wheat silo at the port, raising concerns that the small country, which relies on imports, may soon struggle to feed itself.

There were some glimmers of hope amid the tragedy: Volunteers could be seen ferrying the wounded to hospitals on trucks and motorcycles, while others provided first aid.
A widely circulated video showed a crowd erupting in applause as a civil defense worker was rescued from under the rubble. In another, showing the moment of the blast, a nanny grabs a little girl and pulls her to safety as the windows of the apartment shatter inward.
Throughout the night, radio presenters read the names of missing or wounded people. An Instagram page called “Locating Victims Beirut” sprung up with photos of missing people. Another account helped to connect the newly displaced with hotels and homeowners who were willing to host them.
Lebanese have been forced to learn self-reliance throughout the country’s painful history. Beirut was split in half during the 1975-1990 civil war, and in the years since has been rocked by a war with Israel, targeted killings and terror attacks.
But Tuesday’s explosion was the worst the city has ever seen.
Children were among the thousands rushed to hospitals, where many patients had to be treated in hallways and parking lots once the wards filled up.
Elie Khoueiry, a 38-year-old father of two, said he’s had enough.
He estimates the blast caused up to $20,000 worth of damage to his pub, where business was already suffering because of the economic crisis and a coronavirus lockdown.
“If the ruling class wants us to leave, let them give us tickets and we will go,” he said.