A Death in Libya, Cont.

More

Here is some additional reporting on yesterday's attack on the consulate. 


The Times gives some context:

Benghazi, awash in guns, has recently witnessed a string of assassinations as well as attacks on international missions, including a bomb said to be planted by another Islamist group that exploded near the United States mission there as recently as June. 

But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr. Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described security, mainly four video cameras and as few as four Libyan guards, as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a tumultuous environment. 

"This country is still in transition, and everybody knows the extremists are out there," said Fathi Baja, the Libyan politician.

The Washington Post points to previous harbingers:


There had been signs of a threat earlier. On June 5, a bomb exploded outside the gates of the consulate in the first attack on an American facility since the fall of Gaddafi. No one was injured. A jihadist group calling itself "Brigades of Imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman" claimed responsibility, according to the Site monitoring service. 

The group posted a message on jihadist forums saying the attack was a response to the drone strike that killed Libi in Pakistan on June 4. The group is named after the blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. 


On June 10, two British bodyguards were injured in an attack in Benghazi on a convoy carrying the British ambassador. The assailants used rocket-propelled grenades to attack the convoy as it was pulling out of the British Consulate. Militants also have been blamed for attacks on the Tunisian Consulate in Benghazi and on the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya.

Back to the Times for some scene:

There were conflicting accounts of how Mr. Stevens had died. One witness to the mayhem around the compound on Tuesday said militants chased him to a safe house and lobbed grenades at the location, where he was later found unconscious, apparently from smoke inhalation, and could not be revived by rescuers who took him to a hospital....

Libya's deputy interior minister, Wanis al-Sharif, made somewhat contradictory and defensive-sounding statements about the attack. He acknowledged that he had ordered the withdrawal of security forces from the scene in the early stages of the protest on Wednesday night. He said his initial instinct was to avoid inflaming the situation by risking a confrontation with people angry about the video. He also said he had underestimated the aggression of the protesters. 

But he criticized the small number of guards inside the mission for shooting back in self-defense, saying their response probably further provoked the attackers. The small number of Libyans guarding the facility, estimated at only six, did not hold out long against the attackers, who had substantial firepower, the interior minister and State Department officials said. 

Defending the facility would have been a "suicide mission," Mr. Sharif said. Mr. Sharif also faulted the Americans at the mission for failing to heed what he said was the Libyan government's advice to pull its personnel or beef up its security, especially in light of the recent violence in the city and the likelihood that the video would provoke protests. 

"What is weird is that they refrained from this procedure, depending instead on the simple protection that they had," he said. "What happened later is beyond our control, and they are responsible for part of what happened." When the attack began, only Mr. Stevens, an aide named Sean Smith and a State Department security officer were inside the main building.

And finally some really disturbing reporting from Reuters:

Abdel-Salam al-Bargathi, who runs the security operations of the former rebel February 17 Brigade, which effectively forms the police force for Benghazi while the new authorities work to establish new institutions, said he heard explosions start around 8:30 p.m. from his headquarters a mile or so away. "There was a lot of chaos and confusion when the clashes began," he said. 

By 9 p.m., he was receiving calls from his units at the scene that rocket-propelled grenades were being fired at the consulate. A power cut had plunged the area into darkness. "People started running into each other and nobody knew who was who," Bargathi told Reuters, saying that around this time he began ordering preparations to be made for an evacuation. 

Tellingly, he and another senior officer, Wissam Buhmeid, the commander of the pro-government local defense force, the Libya's Shield Brigade, stressed that the Libyan guards on the consulate - estimated by Bargathi at up to 40 or more - may have felt little will to defend the compound from what they, and many other Libyans, judged to be justified religious indignation. 

"I first of all place the blame on the United States itself for allowing such a movie to be produced. This was the product of the anger of Muslims," Buhmeid said, noting also that the guards had only light weapons in the face of rockets. 

"I saw utter chaos. The power went out and it was completely dark," he said. "There were definitely people from the security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate. The deaths and injuries and attacks are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet." 

 Bargathi, of the police command, said the killings had taken the protest too far, but said: "What we saw was a very natural reaction to the insult to the Prophet. We condemn the deaths but the insult to the Prophet made people very angry." Ali Fetori, 59, an accountant who lives near the embassy, said: "The security people ... just all ran away and the people in charge were the young men with guns and bombs."

Juan Cole emphasizes that "Libyan forces fought and risked their lives to protect Americans." But before that he asks a question that I think could be put before our government, and in light of the reporting, Libya's also:

"Why in the world [Stevens] was in an insecure minor consulate in a provincial city on September 11 is a mystery to me."
Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

From This Author

Just In