In the chaotic aftermath of the attack on the U.S consulate in Libya, American Ambassador Christopher Stevens was missing for five hours, it has emerged.
It has also been revealed today that the Benghazi consulate was not protected by the contingent of Marines that usually safeguard embassies and instead was guarded by Libyan and State Department security officers.
A senior administration official said the embassy was ‘an interim facility,’ which the State Department began using ‘before the fall of Gaddafi’‘ reported Politoco.
The embassy was vulnerable to attack because it did not have bulletproof glass, reinforced doors or other features common to embassies, according to reports.
A U.S. State Department official said Mr Stevens and his team ‘became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building.’
At some time between 10:15 p.m. and 11:20 p.m., Mr Stevens was taken from the main building by Libyans to the hospital.
But the diplomat was not seen again by his colleagues until 12 hours later when his body was brought to the Benghazi airport from the hospital.
The description of events at the consulate, while preliminary, appeared to raise questions about security preparations and procedures.
A U.S. official said there were no U.S. military personnel at the mission in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
Questioned about the consulate’s security, the officials said the consulate compound was guarded by both Libyan security and a ‘robust’ force of U.S. security officers, and that a regular security review before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had recently been completed.
‘And at that point, there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured,’ the first U.S. official said.
The White House has said it is keeping an open mind as to the reason for the Tuesday’s strike in Libya,but it is investigating whether the attack in Benghazi was planned in advance by terrorists.
The assault had initially been thought to have been a spontaneous reaction to protests over an anti-Islamic film, but there is now speculation it was a long-planned ambush on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, or a revenge attack for death of an al Qaeda official in June in Yemen.
The attack has already raised questions about why the building was so poorly protected on the anniversary of September 11, as tensions ran high as well as the fact the consulate had already been attacked before.
It has been suggested that the attack was in retaliation for the death of al Qaeda official, which was confirmed this week and should have meant security would have been high at the U.S embassy in the troubled region.
A London think tank run by a former Libyan militant leader suggested on Tuesday that not only was the Benghazi attack ‘well planned,’but that it may have been retaliation for an American drone attack that killed a Libyan leader of al Qaeda’s core command group earlier this year.
The Quilliam Foundation said that 24 hours before the Benghazi incident, al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, distributed a video to militant websites in which he confirmed the death of his second in command, known as Abu Yahya al-Libi, and urged Libyans to avenge his killing.
Quilliam, whose president, Noman Benotman, once was a leader of an anti-Gaddafi militant faction said that according to its sources, up to 20 militants had prepared for a military assault.
The attack raised questions about the future U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya, relations between Washington and Tripoli, and the unstable security situation after Gaddafi’s overthrow.
U.S. officials said one destroyer, the USS Laboon, moved to a position off the coast of Libya, and the USS McFaul is en route and should be stationed off the coast within days.
The officials say the ships, which carry Tomahawk missiles, do not have a specific mission, but they give commanders flexibility to respond to any mission ordered by the president.
The destroyers have crews totaling about 300 each. There have been four destroyers in the Mediterranean for some time. These moves will increase that to five.
President Barack Obama could also command unmanned surveillance drones to fly over Benghazi in search of jihadi encampments possibly tied to the deadly attack, a U.S. official said who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The drones, which would pass gathered information to Libyans, are expected to be approved by the Pentagon and White House shortly.
With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side on Wednesday, Mr Obama said: ‘Justice will be done.’Meanwhile, further details have emerged about the Benghazi attack – Mr Stevens and information technology specialist Sean Smith were killed during an attempt by U.S. forces to evacuate staff from a safe house, Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister Wanis Al-Sharif said.
U.S. consular staff were moved to the safe house after an attack on the consul building.
A plane with U.S. security units arrived from Tripoli to evacuate other staff but militants discovered the location of the safe house, he said.
‘It was supposed to be a secret place and we were surprised the armed groups knew about it. There was shooting,’ he said.
A senior Obama administration official ran through the timeline, saying the attackers opened fire about 10pm local time and within 15 minutes they had gained access to the compound shot.
They attacked the main building which held three staff, Stevens, Smith and a regional security officer and which caught fire.
‘They became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building. The regional security officer made it outside, and then he and other security personnel returned into the burning building in an attempt to rescue Chris and Sean.
‘At that time, they found Sean. He was already dead, and they pulled him from the building. They were unable, however, to locate Chris before they were driven from the building due to the heavy fire and smoke and the continuing small arms fire.’
It is believed a ‘small, vicious group’ of attackers used the protest as a diversion, although questions remain over whether the killers drummed up support for the march or simply took advantage of it, an official told CNN.
Graphic images taken at the scene show civilians making desperate attempts to pull the diplomat to safety. But their efforts were futile.
The doctor who treated him said he died of severe asphyxiation, which caused stomach bleeding and that Mr Stevens had no other injuries
The doctor, Ziad Abu Zeid, said Mr Stevens was brought to the Benghazi Medical Center by Libyans on Tuesday night with no other Americans, and that initially no one realized he was the ambassador.
The doctor tried for 90 minutes to revive him.
While it is not known exactly who was responsible for the rampage, a London think tank with strong ties to Libya said Mr Stevens could have been the victim of a revenge attack by al Qaeda.
U.S. officials said the attack began at roughly 10pm local time on Tuesday, with Ambassador Stevens, Mr Smith and one security officer trapped under fire in the burning consulate building.
‘They became separated from each other due to the heavy dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building,’ one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The security officer made it outside, and returned with help to search for the missing U.S. diplomatic personnel.
The assault ‘came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second in command killed a few months ago’ in Pakistan, think tank Quilliam told CNN, noting the rocket-propelled grenade launchers used in the attack did not normally appear at peaceful protests.