A new video surfaced over the weekend showing a group of unknown men pulling Ambassador Christopher Stevens from the burned-out wreckage of the American consulate in Benghazi. But who are they and why where they there?
The video, which was posted on YouTube with no other details by a freelance videographer, Fahd al-Bakoush, a freelance videographer. The AP spoke to him, but does not add anything about the other people in the video besides that they are civilians. The clip shows what appears to the body of Stevens being lifted through a window, by men who had apparently gone inside the building and then came back out through the same window. It seems to conform to the accepted theory about the way he died — that he was trapped in an inner room after attackers set the building on fire and died from smoke inhalation rather than a physical assault by the attackers.
It's not know how long after the attack took place that the video was shot, but the fires seems to be out and there isn't any fighting, so could be several hours afterward. The BBC says Stevens arrived at the hospital around 1:15 a.m., so this probably happened shortly before that.
The most fascinating details, however, is how Stevens is being treated. According to multiple translations, the crowd cheers most excitedly as word spreads that he is still alive. The men can be heard shouting, "Bring him out, man,” and “He’s still alive," followed by multiple people chanting, “Alive, alive! God is great,” before someone calls for a car to take him the hospital. (We know that Stevens was indeed taken to the hospital, but was already dead before he arrived.)
On its surface, the video does appear to confirm one of the main narratives that emerged after Stevens' death: that America, and Stevens in particular, is loved in Benghazi and its people were saddened by what happened at the consulate. It's usually not wise to make such broad generalizations about an entire city or country. There is plenty left unanswered. First of all, it's not clear that Stevens was in fact still alive at this point. Nor is there anything in the video that tells us whether the they recognized the victim as Stevens. But what seems clear is this group of people seemed glad that this American was alive and wanted to help.
The question, which can't really be answered by this short video is, who are these men and why were they at the embassy to begin with? Did they try to defend it from whoever was attacking? Were they a militia that retook the embassy after it was burned or the same security forces originally assigned to defend it? Was the fight still going on or did they arrive after it was all over and were merely looking over what was left? The Daily Beast says "it is not clear if they are protesters, looters, or nearby residents drawn to the scene after the attack," but (assuming the translations are correct) it seems unlikely that they are either of the first two.
Without knowing why each of these men went to the embassy that night, we can still probably surmise from this short clip that within hours of the attack, there were more people at the consulate trying to help than there were trying to do harm. The victims may have been overwhelmed by a violent mob, but they weren't alone at the end.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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