International Law

US Ambassador Fled to Safe Room at Libyan Embassy During Sept. 11 Attack, But It Filled with Smoke


Unidentified senior officials with the U.S. Department of State have provided new details of a fatal Sept. 11 attack in which the American. ambassador to Libya and three others were reportedly killed at the embassy compound in Benghazi.

They say the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, a 52-year-old law graduate of the University of California-Hastings, fled to a safe room in one of the residences in the compound, along with a computer specialist, apparently at the direction of one of nine armed security agents present at the consulate, according to the Associated Press.

Subsequently, Stevens tried to escape the building with two agents, but had to retreat after meeting armed resistance. As intruders set fire to diesel fuel and furniture, and flames spread from the interior to the exterior of the building, thick smoke filled the safe room. Unable to get enough air even after opening a bathroom window, the three decided to try to escape. The agent went first, flopping out into immediate fire. Stevens and the computer specialist never emerged.

Agents who were eventually able to reach the building recovered the computer specialist’s body and evacuated, but they weren’t immediately able to find Stevens. Another Associated Press article provides additional details about the officials’ account of the attack.

Meanwhile, a former security official at the embassy told a U.S. House of Representatives committee Wednesday that security was “weak” and had been scaled back prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports.

However, a State Department official responded to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee testimony by Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood by telling the committee that even extra security might not have been sufficient to repel the unexpected attack.

“The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya,” said Eric Nordstrom, who was formerly the department’s top Libyan security official. “Having an extra foot of wall or an extra half-dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.”

CNN and the Daily Mail also have stories.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Fatal Sept. 11 Attack on US Ambassador to Libya May Have Been Planned, Extremist Act, Officials Say”

ABAJournal.com: “4 Suspects Held in Sept. 11 Attack on US Consulate in Which American Ambassador to Libya Died”

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