UPDATED: Timeline of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya

Updated on Dec. 24, 2012

Timeline* of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

(*Based on information provided by the State Department on Sept. 12, 2012 and Oct. 9, 2012, the Congressional testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb on Oct. 10, 2012, and the State Department Accountability Review Board’s unclassified findings released in December 2012)

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012

The temporary Benghazi consulate facilities were acquired before the ouster of former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi last year. The U.S. consulate consisted of a main building, several ancillary buildings, and an annex building a short drive away. Between 25 to 30 American personnel were in the main compound and annex at the time of the attack, according to a senior State Department official.

While officials declined to comment on details of any U.S. government facilities overseas, they did confirm that, per standard procedure, both the main consulate building and the annex have physical perimeters set up with local (Libyan) guards staffed outside the compound and a “robust American security presence inside the compound, including a strong component of regional security officers.”

6:45 a.m. local time

A Blue Mountain Libya contract guard spotted a person wearing a Libyan Supreme Security Council police uniform taking photos of the U.S. consulate with a cell phone. The unidentified person was photographing the consulate compound from the second floor of a building across the street. “The individual was reportedly stopped by [Blue Mountain Libya] guards, denied any wrongdoing, and departed in a police car with two others,” according to the Accountability Review Board’s report. The incident was reported to the consulate’s security staff or Assistant Regional Security Officers (ARSOs). A complaint of the incident was drafted but not sent due to the “typically early closure of Libyan government offices”.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was notified of the Cairo Embassy’s breach earlier that day. As a precaution, Stevens did not schedule any meetings or appearances outside of the consulate on Sept. 11th.

7:40 p.m. local time

Stevens and an Assistant Regional Security Officer escorted a Turkish diplomat to the consulate’s main gate. “Nothing out of the ordinary was noted,” according to the Accountability Review Board’s report.

8:10 p.m. –  8:30 p.m. local time

A British security team dropped off vehicles and other equipments at the Benghazi consulate. “When the UK security team departed…there were no signs of anything unusual, including no roadblocks outside of the compound, and traffic flowed normally,” the ARB’s report noted.

9 p.m. local time

Ambassador Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith retired for the night at the building known as Villa C. There were 5 State Department security personnel at the consulate. One Assistant Regional Security Officer was stationed at the common area of Villa C. Three ARSOs were stationed outside of Villa C. One temporary duty Regional Security Officer was in the Tactical Operations Center in the building adjacent to Villa C. Each officer were equipped with a pistol. Per the State Department’s practice, the security team’s “kits” – body armor, radio, and M4 rifle – were stored in their sleeping quarters when not used.

9 p.m. to 9:42 p.m. local time

A Libyan Supreme Security Council (SSC) police car was stationed by the Benghazi compound gate for about 40 minutes. The Benghazi consulate “had requested that a marked SSC police car be posted outside of the compound 24/7, but in practice a car was there only intermittently,” according to the ARB’s report.

Around 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. local time

The main building of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came under fire. The temporary Regional Security Officer stationed at the Tactical Operations Center heard gunshots and an explosion. “He then saw via security camera dozens of individuals, many armed, begin to enter the compound through the main entrance,” according to the ARB’s report. He hit the consulate’s alarm and issued a radio warning to the other Regional Security Officers and notified the Benghazi Annex and Tripoli Embassy by cell phone.

Although the paid Libyan guards – Blue Mountain Libya (BML) and The February 17th Martyr’s Brigade – were supposed to provide early warning of any breach, the temporary Regional Security Officer “recalled no such warning from the February 17th or BML guards, who had already begun to flee to points south and east in the compound.”

Minutes after the compound was breached, Stevens was on the phone with the Tripoli Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Missions. The Tripoli Embassy immediately contacted the Benina Airbase in Benghazi, the Libyan President and Prime Minister’s offices, Libyan Air Force and Armed forces contacts, and the February 17th Brigade’s leadership for help. The Tripoli Embassy was able to charter a private plane and fly out a seven-person security team – including two U.S. military personnel – to Benghazi.

Around 10 p.m. local time

“Libyan extremists” breached the compound and “began firing into the main building, setting it on fire.” The Libyan guards and U.S. security forces returned fire.

Upon hearing the alert over the radio, one Regional Security Officer had Stevens and Smith wear their body armors and led them to a “safe haven” in the building, where the officer set up a defensive position armed with his M4 rifle, shotgun, and pistol. There, Stevens began making phone calls to the Tripoli Embassy and his Benghazi contacts seeking assistance. According to a senior  State Department official, the “safe haven is a fortified area within a building” equipped medical supplies and water and grills on the windows that can be opened only from the inside.

In the meantime, the other three Regional Security Officers went to the adjacent building to retrieve their “kits”. Another Regional Security Officer joined the temporary RSO at the Tactical Operations Center to continue their calls for assistance. The other two officers tried to return to the building where Stevens, Smith, and a RSO were barricaded. They were forced to turn back after being “outnumbered and outgunned by armed intruders” and barricaded themselves – along with one Libyan guard – in the back room of the adjacent building.

Sometime between 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The intruders found fuel cans stored next to the uninstalled power generators near the main entrance. They used the diesel fuel to burn down the local security guards’ living quarters and vehicles parked nearby before making their way to the Villa C build where Stevens, Smith, and a Regional Officer were barricaded.

After breaking into the Villa C building, “men armed with AK rifles started to destroy the living contents and then approached the safe area gate and started banging on it,” according to the ARB’s report. After failing to force their way into the safe area, the intruders left Villa C. The lights dimmed and smoke began to fill the building. The Villa C building had been set on fire.

(The Regional Security Officers in the Tactical Operations Center could not see the smoke coming from Villa C from their vantage point; they didn’t see the smoke on the surveillance monitors shortly after 10 p.m. Keep in mind that were other buildings on fire at the same time.)

“As smoke engulfed the Villa C safe area, ARSO 1 led Ambassador Stevens and IMO Smith into a bathroom with an exterior window. All three crawled into the bathroom, while the thick, black smoke made breathing difficult and reduced visibility to zero,” recounted the ARB’s report.

The trio broke the bathroom’s window seeking fresh air but doing so only made the situation worse. As thick smoke was quickly filling up the bathroom, making it very difficult to breathe, the Regional Security Officer “determined that they could no longer stay in the safe area and yelled to the others [Stevens and Smith], whom he could no longer see, to follow him to an adjacent bedroom” to escape through the window.

Yelling and banging on the floor to guide Stevens and Smith, the Regional Security Officer crawled through a hallway to the adjacent bedroom. Once there, the Regional Security Officer, “nearing unconsciousness himself”, opened the bedroom window and climbed out. Once outside, the Regional Security Officer realized that he had become separated from Stevens and Smith.

“They became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building,” said a senior administration official.

The Regional Security Officer re-entered the building through the window “several times to search for his colleagues while under fire by the intruders outside.”

“He was unable to locate [Stevens or Smith], and severe heat and smoke forced him to exit the building to recover between each attempt,” according to the ARB’s report. After several attempts, the RSO climbed up to Villa C’s roof and broke the skylight to ventilate the building. There, he radioed the Tactical Operations Center and informed them of the situation.

While Villa C was under attack, armed intruders also tried to break into the Tactical Operations Center holding two Regional Security Officers as well as the room where the remaining Regional Security Officers were barricaded.

10:05 p.m. local time

The U.S. Consulate’s Annex security team departed for the main consulate compound in two cars – about 20 minutes after receiving the first distress call. The brief delay was due to the team’s efforts to request support from local security contacts. “The [Annex security] team leader decided on his own to depart the Annex compound once it was apparent, despite a brief delay to permit their continuing efforts, that rapid support from local security elements was not forthcoming,” according to the ARB’s report.

Shortly after 10 p.m. local time

By this time, the first group of attackers “appeared to have receded.” One of the Regional Security Officers emerged from the Tactical Operations Center, fired a smoke grenade, and ran to the room where the other two officers were barricaded. The three drove an armored car parked outside the Tactical Operations Center to Villa C to rescue Stevens, Smith, and the Regional Security Officer (who was vomiting and nearing unconsciousness from smoke inhalation) on the roof.

Once there, the three Regional Security Officers took turns crawling through Villa C to find Stevens and Smith, fighting through the “heavy smoke and the lack of fresh air and visibility.”

“They were unable, however, to locate [Stevens] before they were driven from the building due to the heavy fire and smoke and the continuing small arms fire,” the official said.

10:45 p.m. local time

The Annex security team stopped along the way to “bring along friendly forces from militia compounds located along their route.” They made one final stop just west of the consulate’s main entrance to “convince militia members there to assist.” They were not successful. However, according to Charlene Lamb, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, the Annex team bring along 40 members of the February 17th Brigade militia to the main consulate compound.

Members of the Annex team helped the four Regional Security Officers search Villa C for Stevens and Smith. They eventually found Smith’s body in the safe area. He had died from apparent smoke inhalation.

The temporary RSO and other Annex team members also joined the search for Stevens in Villa C. They re-entered the building many times but were hindered by the heat and smoke from the fire. The ceiling of the building collapsed at one point.

11 p.m. local time

Members of the Libyan 17th February Brigade warned the Americans that the compound was about to be overrun and insisted that everyone evacuate the site. According to Lamb’s testimony, the main consulate’s security team made “one final search” for Stevens before leaving. The Annex team stayed to defend the compound from a second wave of attack.

The Americans encountered more trouble as they drove away from the compound. The streets surrounding the compound were blocked by crowds and roadblocks. The team took hostile fire after a man posing as a February 17th Brigade member tried to lure the Americans into an ambush. The bullets shattered the car’s windows and blew out two tires.  The team was also followed by two cars back to the Annex area.

11:30 p.m. local time

The Assistant Regional Security Officers from the main consulate arrived at the Annex facility. Those who were wounded were treated, and others took up defensive positions as they wait for the arrival of the Tripoli response team and rest of the Annex security team. “The situation was relatively quiet,” according to the ARB’s report.

In the meantime, the Annex security team continued to search for Stevens at the main compound. They came under gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) during the second wave of attack. At least three RPGs were fired at the Americans. “With their many and repeated attempts to retrieve [Stevens] having proven fruitless and militia members warning them the [compound] could not be held much longer, the Annex team departed the [main consulate compound], carrying with them the body of IMO Smith,” according to the ARB’s report.

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012

The Defense Department’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) deployed an unarmed surveillance drone to monitor what was happening at the Benghazi consulate. A second drone was deployed to monitor the “eventual evacuation” of the Americans to Benghazi airport.

Around 12 a.m. local time

All of the American security personnel returned to the Annex building. The Annex building began taking hostile gunfire and intermittent RPG attacks.

1:15 a.m. local time

Stevens was brought to the Benghazi Medical Center’s emergency room by six unidentified civilians, who the ARB determined to be “good Samaritans”. “With the clearing of smoke, Ambassador Stevens’ rescuers found him within a room in the safe area of Villa C, did not know his identity, pulled him out through an egress window, and sought medical attention for him,” according to the ARB’s report.

Stevens was unresponsive when he arrived at the hospital. Nonetheless, the doctors at Benghazi Medical Center tried to resuscitate the Ambassador for 45 minutes before pronouncing him dead. Like Smith, Stevens had died from apparent smoke inhalation.

2 a.m. local time

The Tripoli Embassy received a call from a cell phone that Stevens was carrying. A man speaking Arabic told the Embassy that an American matching the physical description of Stevens was at a hospital. “The caller was unable to provide a picture of the Ambassador or give any other proof that he was with him,” according to the ARB’s report. “There was some concern that the call may be a ruse to lure American personnel into a trap.” Given the chance that some of the injured attackers were being treated at Benghazi Medical Center, the Americans asked one of their Libyan contacts to verify the Ambassador’s identity at the hospital.

5 a.m. local time

The 7-member Tripoli Embassy security team arrived at the Benghazi Consulate Annex.

5:15 a.m. local time

Attackers fired mortars and RPGs at the Annex building. At least 5 rounds of mortars were launched within a 90-seconds span. Three of the mortars struck the roof of the Annex, killing security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, severely wounding an Assistant Regional Security Officer and an Annex security personnel.

6:30 a.m. local time

A quasi-Libyan government militia helped evacuate all the Americans from the Annex to Benghazi Airport. The evacuation was monitored via a U.S. military drone.

7:30 a.m. local time

The first wave of evacuees – including all the wounded – were flown out of Benghazi on the chartered jet. Upon their arrival in Tripoli, the wounded were transferred to a local hospital “in exemplary coordination that helped save the lives of two severely injured Americans.”

At the request of the Tripoli Embassy, the Libyan government was able to provide an Air Force C-130 plane to evacuate the remaining Americans from Benghazi to Tripoli.

Meanwhile, the temporary Regional Security Officer and consulate staff reached out to their Libyan contacts for help to transport the Ambassador’s remains to Benghazi Airport.

8:25 a.m. local time

A local ambulance brought Stevens’s body to Benghazi Airport. His identity was verified by the temporary Regional Security Officer.

11:30 a.m. local time

The Libyan C-130 jet, carrying the bodies of the four deceased and the remaining American personnel, landed in Tripoli.

7:15 p.m. local time 

The Benghazi evacuees along with most of the Tripoli Embassy staff left Libya on a U.S. Air Force C-17. The wounded American were treated also treated by military doctors and nurses aboard the plane.

10:30 p.m. Tripoli time

The evacuees arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.


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