UK INDEPENDENT is reporting that the killings of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff were likely to have been the result of a serious and continuing security breach.
American officials believe the attack was planned, but Chris Stevens had been back in the country only a short while and the details of his visit to Benghazi, where he and his staff died, were meant to be confidential. The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.
Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.
Mr Stevens had been on a visit to Germany, Austria and Sweden and had just returned to Libya when the Benghazi trip took place with the US embassy’s security staff deciding that the trip could be undertaken safely.
Eight Americans, some from the military, were wounded in the attack which claimed the lives of Mr Stevens, Sean Smith, an information officer, and two US Marines. All staff from Benghazi have now been moved to the capital, Tripoli, and those whose work is deemed to be non-essential may be flown out of Libya.
Senior officials are increasingly convinced, however, that the ferocious nature of the Benghazi attack, in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, indicated it was not the result of spontaneous anger due to the video, called Innocence of Muslims. Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa’ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.
Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “I am asking my colleagues on the committee to immediately investigate what role al-Qa’ida or its affiliates may have played in the attack and to take appropriate action.”
According to security sources the consulate had been given a “health check” in preparation for any violence connected to the 9/11 anniversary. In the event, the perimeter was breached within 15 minutes of an angry crowd starting to attack it at around 10pm on Tuesday night. There was, according to witnesses, little defence put up by the 30 or more local guards meant to protect the staff. Ali Fetori, a 59-year-old accountant who lives near by, said: “The security people just all ran away and the people in charge were the young men with guns and bombs.”
Wissam Buhmeid, the commander of the Tripoli government-sanctioned Libya’s Shield Brigade, effectively a police force for Benghazi, maintained that it was anger over the Mohamed video which made the guards abandon their post. “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 are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet.”
An eight-strong American rescue team was sent from Tripoli and taken by troops under Captain Fathi al- Obeidi, of the February 17 Brigade, to the secret safe house to extract around 40 US staff. The building then came under fire from heavy weapons. “I don’t know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries,” said Captain Obeidi. “It began to rain down on us, about six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa.”