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4:21 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Libyan Militiaman Says He Warned U.S. Of Dangers

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 5:15 pm

Two days before the deadly Sept. 11 attack on Americans in Libya, three U.S. officials met pro-government militias working to provide security in the city of Benghazi.

In that meeting, which included the American economic and political counselors, Mohammed el Gharabi, a leader of a prominent militia, says he warned the Americans that the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating.

Assassinations are becoming rampant; no one is safe, including militiamen like himself, he says he told the Americans.

He asked for help to secure Benghazi and suggested scaling back or possibly closing diplomatic missions until conditions were more secure. He didn't cite any specific threat, but reminded the Americans that there had been an attack in June on the fortified U.S. Consulate, which is enclosed by a high wall, topped with concertina wire.

They didn't heed his warning, he says.

So far, the U.S. government has been tight-lipped about the security procedures that day when a two-pronged attack on the consulate and a safe house left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Spontaneous Or Planned?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday she was forming a panel to investigate the attack. Much of the current debate centers around whether the attack was spontaneous or planned.

Libya's President Mohammed el-Megarif says he believes the attack was planned, but U.S. officials have said they have not seen any such evidence so far.

Clinton has also said that the mission in Benghazi was secured properly and that there was no indication of an imminent threat.

"Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world," she said.

But Libyan witnesses are asking why Stevens was apparently left alone at the consulate. When the attack by heavily armed men was over, fires raged and people looted the compound.

Video Footage From The Consulate

Libyan Fahed al Bakkosh took video of events that night and has posted the footage on YouTube. His video shows Libyans pulling a man — who appears to be Stevens — from a room at the consulate.

Bakkosh says he walked into the consulate after midnight. There were no Americans and no visible security as Libyans looted the compound. He then heard a young man scream, "Dead body."

Libyans were pulling the man out of a smoke-filled room, and the man was still breathing, Bakkosh says. The Libyans took him to the hospital, and only later, Bakkosh says, did they discover it was Stevens.

The doctor who treated Stevens says he died of asphyxiation, and his heart had stopped by the time he reached the hospital.

Where were the bodyguards? Bakkosh asks. There wasn't even an ambulance, he says.

Hours after the consulate attack, Libyan authorities sent security forces to the Benghazi airport to meet a U.S. team sent to evacuate the Americans.

One of those Libyans, Fathi Obeidi, described the U.S. group as seven Marines in civilian clothes. Using a GPS, they went to a secret safe house inside a walled compound.

There, they found three villas, one of which was occupied by more than 20 Americans who had fled the consulate, says Obeidi.

Within 15 minutes, that house came under fire by either RPG or mortar fire, he said. The assailants, he said, appeared to have been lying in wait. They fired from a distance, and it was impossible to identify them.

After the attack stopped, the U.S. rescue team and the Libyans evacuated the Americans to the Benghazi airport. They asked the Libyan security forces to bring Stevens' body from the hospital. Obeid says it took two planes to evacuate all the Americans from Benghazi.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a panel to investigate last week's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

NPR's Leila Fadel is in Benghazi, and she reports on new details about the attack.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: On September 9th, two days before the attack that stunned the United States and killed four Americans in Benghazi, three U.S. officials met with leaders of para-governmental militias working to provide security in a post-revolution Benghazi. They included Mohammed el Gharabi, leader of one of the more prominent pro-government militias.

In that meeting, which included the American economic and political counselors, Gharabi says he warned them that the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating.

MOHAMMED EL GHARABI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Assassinations are becoming rampant. No one is safe, including us, he said he told them. He asked for help to secure Benghazi and suggested scaling back or possibly closing diplomatic missions until things were more secure. He didn't cite any specific threat but said already there'd been an attack in June on the fortified U.S. consulate enclosed by a high wall, topped with concertina wire.

GHARABI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: They didn't heed the warning, he says, and now Americans are dead.

So far, the U.S. has been tight-lipped about the security procedures that fatal day when a two-pronged attack on the consulate and later a safe house startled the diplomatic world. Clinton has formed a panel to investigate.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We are concerned about the internal security in these countries because ultimately that puts at risk the men, women and children of these societies on a daily ongoing basis if actions are not taken to try to restore security and civil order.

FADEL: This comes a day after Clinton said the mission in Benghazi was secured properly, and they had no indication of an imminent threat.

CLINTON: Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world.

FADEL: But Libyan witnesses are asking how Ambassador Chris Stevens was apparently left completely alone at the consulate when the attack by heavily armed men was over, fires raged and people looted the compound.

Fahed al Bakkosh captured video of Libyans pulling what apparently is Chris Stevens from a room at the consulate and put it on YouTube. Bakkosh walked into the consulate after midnight. There were no Americans and no visible security as people looted the compound. He heard a young man scream, dead body. Libyans then pulled the man out of a smoke-filled room. Bakkosh says he was still breathing. They took him to the hospital. Later, Bakkosh says Libyans discovered it was Stevens.

The doctor who treated him said he died of asphyxiation and his heart had stopped by the time he reached the hospital.

FAHED AL BAKKOSH: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The most important person is the ambassador, and he was left alone, Bakkosh says. Where were the bodyguards, he asks? How could they leave him? There wasn't even an ambulance.

Hours after the consulate attack, Libyan authorities sent security forces to the airport to meet a U.S. team sent to bring out Americans. One of the Libyans, Fathi Obeidi, described the U.S. group as some seven Marines in civilian clothes. Using GPS, they guided him to a secret safe house inside a walled compound.

FATHI OBEIDI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: There, they found three villas, one of which was occupied by more than 20 Americans who had fled the consulate, says Obeidi.

Within 15 minutes, that house came under fire by either RPG or mortar, he said. The assailants, he said, appeared to have been laying in wait. They fired from a distance, and it was impossible to identify them. After the attack stopped, the U.S. team and the Libyans evacuated the Americans to the airport. They asked Libyan security forces to bring Stevens' body from the hospital. Obeidi says it took two planes to evacuate all the Americans.

He shakes his head, shocked, he says, by the Americans' inability to secure themselves.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Benghazi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.