October 8, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 4995

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Special Report: Libyan Guards' Eyewitness Accounts From Inside Benghazi U.S. Consulate During September 11 Attack Suggest Attack Was Well-Planned, American And Libyan Response Was Lacking

October 8, 2012
Libya | Special Dispatch No. 4995

On October 7, 2012, the London-daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published an article on the details of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi which resulted in the death of four diplomats, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The report is based on the eyewitness accounts of several Libyan guards assigned to protect the consulate that day, particularly on the eyewitness testimony of 'Ali, one of the four Libyan guards assigned to the inside of the premises.

According to the article, 'Ali was part of a Special Protection Unit, which comprises members of the February 17 Brigade, a Libyan militia comprising radical Islamists which was established following the Libyan revolution. Back in March 2012, the U.S. Consulate had hired members of the Special Protection Unit to guard its compound. 'Ali and others in his team describe the mostly "theoretical" training they underwent inside the embassy to prepare them for their role. They also describe the embassy's poor cooperation when, following the June 2012 attack on the embassy,[1] they requested upgrades to their weapons and improvement of the security tools at their disposal. 'Ali said that during the attack, after the embassy was stormed by some 50 men, whom he said appeared to be led by a group of four masked men, his team's calls for backup, in Arabic and English, went unanswered by both the Americans inside the embassy and by the February 17 Brigade headquarters less than two miles away.

Following are excerpts of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat article:

Libyan Guard: "Every Sunday… We Occasionally Received Practical Lessons, But They Did Not Include Shooting [Firearms]... There Was No Practical Training Per Se..."

'Ali, 33, was a member of several such Special Protection Units, comprising five to seven men who had received American-style "light" and "theoretical" training inside the consulate. 'Ali and the other three members of his team, 'Omar, Naji, and 'Abd Al-Aziz, were on assignment to protect the embassy on the day of the attack.

One of the guards described one such "theoretical" training session: "Every Sunday… we occasionally received practical lessons, but it did not include shooting [firearms]... There was no practical training per se..."

In addition to the lack of practical training, the guards complained about the poor cooperation and lack of responsiveness on the part of the embassy. Following the June 2012 attack on the embassy, they requested upgrades to their weapons and improvement of the security tools at their disposal; however, according to one guard, "did not provide us with handguns… or with the weapons we requested, and did not provide us with helmets" after bullets from a nearby wedding fell inside the embassy compound.

One guard said that his team had received information on August 28, 2012 about a possible attack on the diplomatic compound from its unit (i.e. Special Protection Unit/February 17 Brigade), and that warning had remained in effect until September 11, the day of the attack. The guard added that on September 9, the unit had informed his team that there could be an attack on the compound in connection with an "anniversary related to the Gadhafi era." The guard explained, "I think they indicated an anniversary of the African Union."[2]

Another guard said that on the morning of the attack, the consulate had asked the Libyan security unit assigned to it to increase the number of its security vehicles outside the compound to 10, and to send 25 additional guards – but that for an unknown reason, the consulate later cancelled that request.

'Ali also said that an hour and a half prior to the attack he received a phone call from one of his friends warning him "non-specific[ally]" about possible demonstrations and disturbances in areas nearby. He decided not to report the phone call to the security team, but instead took it upon himself to personally investigate the matter.

Consulate Attack Occurs Within Minutes; Police Vehicle Outside Consulate "Fled The Scene"; No Response To Libyan Guards' Call For Backup

'Ali, who was assigned to the consulate's main gate (referred to as "Charlie 1"), was taken by surprise by the attack, which he said "seemed to come out of nowhere." He said that he first noticed that the police car outside the consulate – an additional layer of security provided by the Libyan government – "took off quickly, fleeing the scene." He then saw some 50 men, mostly unarmed, approaching the consulate by foot on the dirt road leading up to it, headed by eight masked men, two of whom carried RPGs. Another guard said that the mob seemed to be unsure as to the exact layout of the consulate, because they were searching the various entrances for "Charlie 1." Shortly thereafter, one of the attackers fired three rounds at the main gate, while others stormed the consulate wall.

'Ali said that at first he wasn't certain that the attackers were aiming for the consulate, but that in any case he took cover and started firing at the top of the wall to stop them from entering the compound. The rest of his team members called for backup, in Arabic and English, but their calls went unanswered by both the Americans inside the embassy and by the February 17 Brigade headquarters less than two miles away. Team member 'Abd Al-Aziz was hit in the shootout, but managed to escape to safety.

Only One Marine Shows Up During The Attack; In Attempt To Save His Own Life, 'Ali Shouted: 'I Am [Member] Of The February 17 Brigade'

'Ali said that when he and his team members heard the multiple blasts inside the compound, they assumed that the other February 17 Brigade members and the five Marines inside the embassy would come to their aid, but only one Marine arrived. An American guard, unarmed, who he said seemed confused about what was happening, emerged from one of the rooms behind the swimming pool; Ali said that he shouted at him to go get weapons from a different room. But, 'Ali said, he didn't know what happened to the American guard after that, or to the other American guards inside the embassy.

Realizing that he remained alone and might be killed, 'Ali said that he yelled to his attackers, "I am [a member] of the February 17 Brigade. Don't attack me... don't shoot," and that he told them that he was only assigned to do work outside the embassy and that he had happened to be drinking tea at the main gate.

'Ali Describes The Apparent Leaders Of The Attack

According to testimony obtained by the newspaper, the great majority of the attackers were Libyans from Benghazi, and some of them were masked. However, both 'Ali and 'Abd Al-Aziz said that they thought that only four of the attackers, all apparently masked, were the leaders of the group, because, they said, all the others seemed to listen to them and to follow their orders. Both of them also said that even though the group comprised "mixed" individuals, they all apparently "knew one another."

'Ali also said that one of the four leaders had worn a Pakistani-type garment, and carried a golden pistol. A second, whom he described as a "short, fat, irritable" man about 5'4" with a beard visible under his mask carrying an AK-47, asked him about where the Americans were inside the consulate. A third man, he said, who was about 5'7", wore a long robe.


[1] A bomb exploded outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi on the night of June 5-6, 2012. Reuters, June 6, 2012.

[2] The African Union (AU) was established on July 9, 2002, and Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi was elected chairman of the AU on February 2, 2009.

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