Entries in Chris Stevens (12)


Documents Back Up Claims of Requests for Greater Security in Benghazi

STR/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have released new documents backing up claims by security personnel previously stationed in Libya that there was a shortage of security personnel in Benghazi.

The documents contain previously unreleased cables from Ambassador Stevens and his staff reflecting concerns about safety in the country.

The U.S. State Department did not have an immediate comment.

One signed by Stevens and titled “LIBYA’S FRAGILE SECURITY DETERIORIATES AS TRIBAL RIVALRIES, POWER PLAYS AND EXTREMISM INTENSIFY,” dated June 25, 2012, assess the increase in violence. "From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests,” Stevens wrote, describing attacks on a United Nations official in Benghazi, International Committee for the Red Cross buildings in Benghazi and Misrata, and IED at the mission in Benghazi, and RPGs fired at the British Ambassador’s convoy, and an attack on the consulate of Tunisia.

A Libyan government national security official told Stevens “that the attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to western influence in Libya. A number of local contacts agreed, noting that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities in Derna,” a village to the east in Benghazi. Other contacts disagreed with that assessment, however.

Another cable from Stevens, titled “The Guns of August; security in eastern Libya” and dated Aug. 8, 2012, states, “Since the eve of the (July) elections, Benghazi has moved from trepidation to euphoria and back as a series of violent incidents has dominated the political landscape during the Ramadan holiday.” Stevens describes the incidents as “organized, but this is not an organized campaign.” The Supreme Security Council, the interim security force, he says, “has not coalesced into a stabilizing force and provides little deterrence.”

Stevens wrote that the people of Benghazi want a security apparatus but “inherently fear abuse by the same authorities. This debate, playing out daily in Benghazi, has created the security vacuum that a diverse group of independent actors are exploiting for their own purposes.”

A cable signed by Stevens on the day of his murder, Sept. 11, described a meeting with the Acting Principal Officer of the Supreme Security Council in Benghazi, commander Fawzi Younis, who “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure)…”

The documents also included an “ACTION MEMO” for Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy dated Dec. 27, 2011, and written by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. With the subject line: “Future of Operations in Benghazi, Libya,” the memo states: “With the full complement of five Special Agents, our permanent presence would include eight U.S. direct hire employees.”

This would seem to suggest that Undersecretary Kennedy had approved a plan for five permanent security agents in Benghazi, but that never happened. It should be noted that there were ultimately a total of five Diplomatic Security Agents in Benghazi that night since there were two stationed at the Benghazi compound, and three escorted Ambassador Chris Stevens to the compound.

In a letter to President Obama, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations, note the Obama administration response that “two extra DS agents would have made no difference. This misses the point. These agents would have provided the added cover to fully evacuate all personnel from the compound -- not just those who survived.”

One of the key conversations in the documents begins on Feb. 11, at 5:29 pm, when Shawn Crowley, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, writes: “Apologies for being a broken record, but beginning tomorrow Benghazi will be down to two agents…We have no drivers and new local guard contract employees have no experience driving armored vehicles…”

On Feb. 11, 1:13 pm, Regional Security Officer of the Libyan Embassy Eric Nordstrom emails State Department officials, cc-ing then-Ambassador Gene Cretz, saying he’ll try to send personnel from the Security Support Team to Benghazi. “I’ll speak with our SST personnel to see if they can free up 1 or 2 bodies for Benghazi….While the status of Benghazi remains undefined, DS” -- Diplomatic Security -- “is hesitant to devout [sic] resources and as I indicated previously, this has severely hampered operations in Benghazi. That often means that DS agents are there guarding a compound with 2 other DOS personnel present. That often means that outreach and reporting is non-existent.” Meanwhile, security on the ground became increasingly precarious.

The committee also released some photographs of the Benghazi compound, before and after the attack.

Issa and Chaffetz say they’ve “been told repeatedly” that the Obama administration not only “repeatedly reject(ed) requests for increased security despite escalating violence, but it also systematically decreased existing security to dangerous and ineffective levels,” and did so “to effectuate a policy of ‘normalization’ in Libya after the conclusion of its civil war.”

This “normalization,” the GOP congressmen write, “appeared to have been aimed at conveying the impression that the situation in Libya was getting better, not worse. The administration’s decision to normalize was the basis for systematically withdrawing security personnel and equipment -- including a much-needed DC-3 aircraft -- without taking into account the reality on the ground. In an interview with Mr. Nordstrom, he maintained that the State Department routinely made decisions about security in early 2012 without first consulting him.” The congressmen submit ten questions for the president to answer.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Libyan Investigators Identify Commander of US Consulate Attack

STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Although Libyan-based Ansar al-Sharia contends it was not behind the siege at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, Libyan authorities are pointing the finger at one of the Islamist group's leaders as being the commander of the attack.

According to published reports, investigators say that eyewitnesses of the assault allege they saw Ahmed Abu Khattala acting as commander during the well-coordinated attack the Obama administration initially believed was an outgrowth of protests against an anti-Islam film made in America.

Abu Khattala has not been seen since the Sept. 11 incident in Benghazi nor have any other possible participants of the siege belonging to Ansar al-Sharia, which is committed to establishing strict Islamic law in Libya a year after former President Moammar Gadhafi was killed and his secular government overthrown.

In Washington, State Department Victoria Nuland was asked by reporters at her Wednesday briefing about the alleged involvement of Abu Khattala.

"We're gonna leave all of that to the FBI as they work with the Libyans to both investigate but, obviously, we are committed to ensuring that those who did this are gonna come to justice," Nuland said.

Republicans have charged the Obama administration of trying to downplay the consulate attacks because it would weaken their argument that al Qaeda has been decimated since the death of Osama bin Laden.  Ansar al-Sharia, which has some ties to the terrorist group, still considers itself more of a separate entity.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Details on US Consulate Attack in Benghazi

STR/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- The size and "lethality" of the attack on the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead was "unprecedented," according to a senior State Department official.

Senior State Department officials Tuesday gave the most detailed account to-date of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, which killed Ambassador Stevens and three other diplomats. One official said the nature of the assault was unparalleled in recent history.

"The lethality and number of armed people is unprecedented," one of the officials said. "There was no attack anywhere in Libya -- Tripoli or Benghazi -- like this, So it is unprecedented and would be very, very hard to find a precedent like that in recent diplomatic history."

Though the timeline of events outlined was similar to the last official account of the incident, which was given on Sept. 12, some stark differences and new details were revealed.

The biggest difference was a clear statement that there were no protests before the attack. Also it was revealed that former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died from a mortar attack and that officials still do not know how Stevens, who was suffering from severe smoke inhalation, made it from the compound to the hospital.

The officials gave reporters a vivid narrative of the events of the night, painting a picture of exactly what the compound looked like.

There were four buildings in the main compound, according to the State Department's narrative: The barracks where the local guards were housed; Building C, which is the main building that contained Stevens' residence; Building B, a building on the compound; and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) that served as the main security and communications center for the compound.

The area of the compound was about the size of a football field, with a nine-foot-high wall, topped by three feet of barbed wire.

On Sept. 11, Stevens did not leave the compound because of security fears due to the 9/11 anniversary. He had arrived in Benghazi the day before with five guards in total. Two additional Diplomatic Security agents from Tripoli were with him in addition to the three agents normally detailed to the compound.

Though some administration officials had initially said that the attack grew out of protests over an anti-Muslim film, the senior State Department official told reporters today that "nothing was out of the ordinary" on the night of the attack.

At 8:30 p.m., the ambassador said goodnight to a visiting Turkish diplomat outside the compound and the streets were empty. But at 9:40 p.m., noises, gunfire and an explosion were heard by the agents located in the TOC and Building B.

The agent in the TOC looked at one of the camera feeds monitoring the perimeter and saw a large group of armed men entering the compound. Asked about the initial reports of the protests, the official said that while "others" in the administration may have said there were protests, the State Department did not.

"That was not our conclusion," the official said. "I'm not saying that we had a conclusion."

This starts a series of events during which Stevens, Information Specialist Sean Smith and the agent locked themselves in a safe area in Building C. The area is set aside from the rest of the building by a metal grille with several locks and contained a small room with water and medical supplies.

From the safe haven room where Stevens, Smith and the agent were hiding they could see the men roaming throughout the house, trying to open grates, looking for them.

When the men didn't find anyone, they poured diesel fuel all over the rooms and furniture, setting the house on fire. As black smoke, diesel fumes and fumes from the burning furniture filled up the safe haven, the three tried to get to the bathroom area where there was a small window to open it for air, which did not help.

At this point, the official said, the security officer, Smith and the ambassador were on the ground gasping for air and suffering from "severe" smoke inhalation and decided to take their chances and get out of the safe haven and building.

The security agent led the way, but when he got outside he realized that neither Smith nor the ambassador had made it after him.

He went back in several times to find them, but eventually had to leave because he was overcome by the strong smoke. He climbed to a safe area outside of the building and radioed for help. Meanwhile the other agents in the compound had gone to Building B to get helmets, body armor and their "long guns." They headed back, but after encountering a large group of armed men, they decided to head back to Building B to barricade themselves, and the two agents in the TOC did the same.

The attackers attempted to enter both buildings, but failed.

After the agent in Building C's unsuccessful attempt to find his colleagues he radioed to the other four that building C was on fire. This was the first time they realized the building was on fire.

A quick reaction security team of six agents from the building roughly a mile away, known as the "annex," arrived at the compound with 16 members of the local Libyan militia, the 17th of February Brigade.

They set up a perimeter around Building C, where Stevens and Smith were still inside, which allowed the two agents to take over the task of looking for Stevens and Smith.

Under heavy, thick black smoke the agents took turns looking for the missing diplomats, feeling their way around on their hands and knees. They finally found Smith dead, and pulled him out, but did not find Stevens.

Outnumbered by "an unbelievable amount of bad guys" in the compound the militia fighters told the security team they had to evacuate, according to the State Department official.

"We've got to leave, we can't hold the perimeter," the official said the militia told the team.

The security team then loaded up into an armored vehicle and headed slowly to the annex building. They took heavy fire as they emerged from the compound's main gate and turned back twice upon encountering crowds and small groups of armed men.

They came upon a group of armed men in an adjacent compound who motioned them to turn inside. The official said the agents "smelled a rat and stepped on it," taking heavy fire at short range, which damaged the armored vehicle. Despite two flat tires, they kept moving, and when they were stopped again, this time by traffic, the team careened over a median and drove against traffic until they reached the annex.

But the annex was not safe either, and began to come under intermittent AK-47 and RPG fire for the next several hours.

By that time a team of security reinforcements had arrived at the annex in Benghazi from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli aboard a chartered aircraft to help with the fight.

At 4 a.m., the annex took "precise" mortar fire with some of the rounds landing on the roof, immediately killing Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and severely wounding another security officer, official said.

At this point the U.S. team was outmatched and a decision was made that they would have to evacuate the annex, the official said. The next hours were spent securing the annex and moving everyone to the airport in Benghazi, where they were evacuated on two flights back to Tripoli.

Stevens was not seen by the security team again until his body was delivered to the airport, officials said, and they still do not know how he reached the Libyan hospital where attempts were made to treat him.

Officials said that, in fact, they were informed that Stevens was at the hospital only after doctors found his cell phone and began phoning people on his recent call list.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Ambassador Stevens Wanted Security Team to Stay in Libya

STR/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens wanted a Security Support Team, made up of 16 special operations soldiers, to stay with him in Libya after their deployment was scheduled to end in August, the commander of that security team told ABC News.

The embassy staff’s “first choice was for us to stay,” Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, 55, told ABC News in an interview.  “That would have been the choice of the embassy people in Tripoli.”

But a senior State Department official told ABC News that the embassy’s Regional Security Officer never specifically requested that the SST’s tour be extended past August, and the official maintained there was no net loss of security personnel.  

The Regional Security Officer “asked for a number of U.S. shooters because of the pending SST redeployment and he was at that number,” said the senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing internal investigation.

The State Department issued a statement Monday, saying, “The SST was enlisted to support the re-opening of Embassy Tripoli, to help ensure we had the security necessary as our diplomatic presence grew.  They were based in Tripoli and operated almost exclusively there.  When their rotation in Libya ended, Diplomatic Security Special Agents were deployed and maintained a constant level of security capability.  So their departure had no impact whatsoever on the total number of fully trained American security personnel in Libya generally, or in Benghazi specifically.”

The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli had already asked for -- and received -- an extension of the SST earlier in the year.  A February draft request for a 120-day extension, obtained by ABC News, stated that the team is “an integral part of our mobile and fixed site security functions,” augmenting the security escort work done by the Mobile Security Detachment, protecting the embassy, training local guards, serving as a Quick Reaction Force, providing “vital medical, communications, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), as well as, command and control enablers that are critical to post’s security effort.”

The embassy request stated: “Quite simply, we cannot maintain our existing levels of Embassy operations, much less implement necessary staffing increases, without a continued SST presence.”

Wood, a member of the Utah National Guard who ordinarily works in security for the Department of the Interior, is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee hearings on Wednesday.

Asked for comment to the memo and Wood’s comments, a spokesman for the House Oversight Committee told ABC News: “Diplomats working in Libya viewed security provided by highly trained Americans as critical to their safety and mission.  The Oversight Committee’s investigation continues to seek answers about why -- even as threats against Americans increased -- senior State Department officials erroneously decided such security was no longer needed.”

Investigators are exploring whether anyone at the State Department told the Embassy specifically not to request another extension.

In his interview with ABC News, Wood did not argue that his and the Security Support Team’s presence would have made a difference for Ambassador Stevens and the other three Americans killed at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

“That’s way speculative; I don’t even know the facts of what happened” that night, Wood said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Amb. Stevens Cautioned Ex-Military Officer Against Libya Travel

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A short time before his death, Ambassador Chris Stevens warned a retired senior American military officer against traveling to Libya due to security concerns, the officer told ABC News.

The officer said he had planned to go on a business trip to Tripoli in early October and, in late August, had asked through official channels if it was safe.

Through a diplomatic attache, Stevens said he didn’t think it was a good idea because of the “potential of increased risk to foreigners as militias and clans jockeyed for position” as the country rebuilds itself from a civil war that deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi and left the nation awash in weapons. Stevens’ advice was heeded and the trip was canceled.

Stevens was killed along with State Department computer expert Sean Smith and former U.S. Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods in a brazen attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Sept. 11.

Following the attack, questions arose about the security of the diplomatic mission in such a turbulent country, and Tuesday, Republicans in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alleging U.S. officials in Libya had made “repeated requests” for increased security in Benghazi, only to be denied by Washington.

In a response letter, Clinton said an Accountability Review Board (ARB) had been set up to determine “whether our security systems and procedures in Benghazi were adequate, whether those systems and procedures were properly implemented, and any lessons that may be relevant to our work around the world.”

“I … would encourage you to withhold any final conclusions about the Benghazi attack until the committee can review the ARB’s findings,” she wrote.

The Obama administration has also come under fire from Republicans for initially saying the assault was the result of a protest that was “hijacked” by violent actors, rather than a full-on “terrorist attack,” as White House spokesperson Jay Carney called it a week later.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Tuesday that special operations forces and the CIA are in the process of gathering information on suspects believed to be involved in the attack for kill or capture missions in the event they get the order from the White House. President Obama has said repeatedly that those responsible will “brought to justice.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Libya Attack Not Just ‘Mob Action,’ Obama Says

ABC/Donna Svennevik(NEW YORK) -- Asked Monday by the hosts of ABC’s The View if the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a “terrorist attack,” President Obama said that “there is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action.”

The administration, which is still investigating the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, has previously said that, based on what they knew so far, the assault was linked to broader protests fueled by an anti-Islam movie.

“We don’t have all the information yet and so we’re still gathering it,” the president said. “But what’s clear is around the world there’s still a lot of threat out there. That’s why we have to maintain the strongest military in the world, that’s why we can’t let down our guard when it comes to the intelligence work that we do and staying on top of -- not just al Qaeda, but all these various fringe groups that have started to develop.” While the “overwhelming majority of Muslims they want the same things that families here want,” the president said, “there are extremist frames that are there and these countries are still going through transition.”

“They don’t have strong institutions … they don’t have a strong police force, a strong military and in that vacuum what you start seeing is these extremists trying to take advantage,” Obama explained.   The president said the U.S. is not going to “shrink back from the world” because of this attack and the growing unrest in the Muslim world, a message he is expected to convey in his remarks before the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday.

“We are going to hunt down those who did this,” he said of the attackers. "We will bring them to justice. We will make sure that we do everything we have to do to protect our embassies and our diplomatic posts, but we’re going to stay engaged.”

The president and first lady’s interview on The View airs Tuesday at 11 a.m. EST on ABC.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Official at Libyan Memorial: Death of Diplomats ‘Truly a Shared Loss’

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/GettyImages(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- At a memorial service in Tripoli attended by at least 200 people, nearly all Libyans, top government leaders paid tribute in Arabic to the man they called their friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens.  A large picture of Stevens was a centerpiece at the service, with pictures of the ambassador operating in various locations around Libya hanging throughout the hall, some with the words “Thank You” written underneath.

The president of Libya, Mohammed el-Megarif, said that Ambassador Stevens had “gained the trust” of the Libyan people. A member of the Libyan Parliament, Moneim Alyaser, was so moved by the death of a man he referred to as his “close friend” he requested he be allowed to speak.

Under Secretary of State William Burns represented the U.S. at the ceremony and was the only American to speak. Burns was the most senior Obama administration official to visit Libya since last week’s attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Ambassador Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

“This is truly a shared loss,” said Burns. "I can see that sense of loss on the faces of all those gathered here this evening . . . the loss of a tireless friend and advocate, a man who dreamed your dreams and wanted deeply to help you achieve the dignity you deserve, after so many decades of tyranny.”

Burns spoke about the night Stevens and the others were killed, and how Libyans fought shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, the same way they were mourning Thursday.

“I could see that sense of loss, as well as a profound sense of honor and decency, in the bravery of the Libyans who risked their lives to try to fight off attackers and rescue Chris … in the grief-stricken faces of the doctors and nurses who did all they could to try to save his life,” said Burns, who talked about “the simple, heartfelt, hand-printed signs of ordinary Libyan citizens, urging the world to understand that the extremists who did this do not speak for them and do not speak for Libya.”

He urged the crowd to use this tragedy as motivation to continue the work of Ambassador Stevens and the other diplomats to strengthen Libya’s democracy by building stronger democratic and security institutions.

“Chris would not have let the profound sense of loss we feel tonight obscure the hopes we share, or the responsibilities we must accept,” said Burns.  “The best way to honor his memory, and the memory of Sean and Tyrone and Glen, and the memory of all the Libyans who have sacrificed so much for the revolution, is to renew our shared determination to build a free Libya, ‘Libya al-Hurra.’ We owe them -- we owe ourselves -- no less.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Libya Attack: Five Guards Protected Slain Ambassador Chris Stevens

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Five guards from the State Department were protecting U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens when he was killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week, according to a top congressional Democrat briefed on the matter.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member on the House Armed Services committee, dismissed concerns that Stevens did not have adequate security when he was killed, but he added that there was no actionable intelligence to suggest that a terrorist attack was imminent.

“The ambassador had five security guards with him,” Smith disclosed. “He had security guards around him when they came under fire, the building itself caught on fire. He was with his other aide and one other security guy and in the fire they got separated.”

Until now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama and other U.S. officials had refused to comment on the precautions taken to protect Stevens.

“We obviously never talk publicly about security at any of our missions for obvious reasons,” Clinton said Tuesday. “But that said, 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. In addition to the security outside the compound, we relied on a wall and a robust security presence inside the compound.”

But following a classified briefing Thursday afternoon with Clinton, members of Congress seemed to contradict each other on many details emerging from a preliminary investigation into the attack.

Smith said that the investigation is still ongoing and so far inconclusive, but based on discussions he’s had about the attack, “it seems like it was obviously some element of pre-planning, but how far in advance, that’s hard to say and they didn’t really speculate on that.”

“Personally it seems like it was not something that simply happened spontaneous, but it wasn’t that well-planned,” Smith added. “One point that was made is that they didn’t bring up mortars until like six or seven hours into the fight, so it seems like an armed gang that seized an opportunity with at least some prior thought.”

Members of Congress seemed to disagree whether there was a demonstration at the consulate that preceded the attack. Smith’s Republican counterpart at the Armed Services committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the committee, said he believes the attack was not spontaneous and was planned ahead of time.

“They’re now saying that there was not a demonstration,” McKeon, R-Calif., said. “That story has been walked away from now. The first story was there was a demonstration and that grew into an attack. I think the story now is that there was not a demonstration. That this was a preplanned attack.”

Still, McKeon said he did not believe that Stevens had adequate protection, telling reporters that the consulate “really wasn’t prepared for what hit them,” and he questioned why the State Department had any personnel, including the ambassador, there.

“It’s pretty obvious he did not have adequate security. Otherwise he would probably be here today,” he said. “I’m really disappointed about that. I think when we put our people around the world at risk and don’t provide adequate security, shame on us.”

McKeon also told reporters that “there is information out there that there was a former detainee that was released from Guantanamo that may have been involved in the attack.”

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said at this time the connection to the former detainee, Ben Qhuru, has not been established.

“There’s been a lot of speculation on what has occurred,” Ruppersberger warned. “We’ve got our best investigators on the ground working together with our intelligence community to find out the exact facts.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Libya Consulate Was Hit with Two Attacks That Lasted Nearly Five Hours

STR/AFP/Getty Images(BENGHAZI, Libya) -- The assault on the American consulate in Libya Tuesday consisted of two separate attacks that forced the Americans from the consulate and then besieged them in a second building in a gunbattle that lasted four and half hours, according to a detailed timeline from a senior administration official.

The bloody offensive by extremists killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.  In addition, three more U.S. personnel were wounded.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Libyan militants a "small and savage group," and she praised Stevens, who began working in Libya during the revolt against former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

"He risked his life to stop a tyrant and gave his life trying to build a better Libya," she said.

The gunfire erupted around 10 p.m. Tuesday while 25-30 personnel were in the compound, which consisted of several buildings and was guarded by a Libyan security force.  Libyan Deputy Interior Minister of the Eastern Region Wanis al-Sharif told a news conference on Wednesday that about 20 gun-wielding attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

By 10:15 p.m., the attackers had stormed the grounds and begun firing on the main building.  The U.S. official said that Stevens, 52; Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer; and a regional security officer were in the main building, which by then had been set ablaze.

By 10:45 p.m., the trio had become separated by thick smoke as they tried to get out of the building.  The regional security officer made it out of the building and U.S. security personnel tried to rescue Stevens and Smith.  Smith, however, had died of smoke inhalation.  His body was pulled from the building.

The searchers were unable to find Stevens before heavy gunfire forced them to retreat to a mission annex building, which was a distance away from the main building.

It took two attempts before American security officials were able to regain control of the consulate at 11:20 p.m., and they evacuated the staff from all of the buildings to the annex.

However, by midnight, the U.S. official said on Wednesday, a second assault began as the annex started taking fire.  Libya's al-Sharif said on Wednesday that a separate group was involved in that firefight.  It lasted for more than two hours.  Two more personnel were killed in that battle and two were wounded.

By 2:30 a.m., nearly five hours after the assault had begun, Libyan security forces helped to regain control of the site.

The State Department said that some time between 10:15 p.m. and 11:20 p.m., Stevens left the main building and went to the hospital.  Clinton said he was taken there by Libyans.

Stevens was not seen by his colleagues until his body was brought later that evening to the Benghazi airport, where all U.S. personnel were taken for a flight to Tripoli.

The U.S. official said that all U.S. staff had now been sent to Europe and the wounded are being treated in Germany.

The two other Americans also died during the incident but had not yet been publicly identified, officials said.  U.S. officials are still making next of kin notifications.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Slain Ambassador Chris Stevens Was 'Legendary' in Libya, Says Former Staffer

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- During the early days of the Libyans' fight to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Christopher Stevens wrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship and sailed into the rebels' stronghold city of Benghazi. He arrived at a time when the crackle of gunfire could be heard each night.

Stevens and his team didn't even have a place to stay, but found space in a hotel briefly, moving out after a car bomb went off in the parking lot, according to his own account in State Magazine last year.

Stevens, whose diplomatic foothold were a couple of battered tables, was literally on the rebels' side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable and in danger of being crushed by Gadhafi's troops who were moving on the city. The threat was pushed back at the last minute by the intervention of NATO planes, which began bombing Gadhafi's tanks and troops.

Stevens, who was elevated to ambassador four months ago, was killed Tuesday by militants who stormed the Benghazi consulate.

Stevens "will be remembered as a hero by many nations," his boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said Wednesday morning. "He risked his life to stop a tyrant then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya. The world needs more Chris Stevenses."

President Obama, who ordered flags lowered to half-staff Wednesday, hailed the ambassador as a "role model to all he worked with and the young diplomats that strive to walk in his footsteps."

One of the U.S. Embassy staff members who worked under Stevens tweeted that he "was the best person I have ever worked for."

"I learned more from him in three months than I have in my adult life," tweeted Hannah Draper, who is in the U.S. on leave from the embassy. "He loved Libya and Libyan people. He died doing what he believed in."

In an August blog post, Draper said the ambassador was "legendary" in Libya because he stayed in the country through the revolution, "liaising with the rebels and leading a skeleton crew of Americans on the ground to support humanitarian efforts and meeting up-and-coming political leaders."

"Several Libyans have told me how much it means to them that he stayed here throughout the revolution, losing friends and suffering privations alongside ordinary Libyans," Draper wrote on her blog. "We could not ask for a better ambassador to represent America during this crucial period in Libyan history."

Stevens, 52 and single, served as a special envoy to the Libyan Transitional National Council last year from March to November, according to his State Department biography. During his 21 years in the Foreign Service he also served in Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo and Saudi Arabia.

Stevens, who spoke French and Arabic, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, where he taught English for two years before returning to northern California to get his law degree from the University of California.

In a State Department video introducing Stevens as the new ambassador to Libya last May, Stevens says he "quickly grew to love this part of the world" during his time in the Peace Corps and since joining the Foreign Service "spent almost my entire career in the Middle East and Africa."

He says in the video that he "was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights" during the 2011 revolution, which ousted Gadhafi.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March, Stevens said, "It will be an extraordinary honor to represent the United States during this historic period of transition in Libya."

Three other Americans were killed in the U.S. Embassy attacks in Libya, including Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, who died of smoke inhalation after protestors set the embassy aflame. Smith was in Libya on a "brief, temporary assignment," Clinton said.

Smith leaves behind his wife, Heather, and two young children, Samantha and Nathan.

President Obama called Smith's wife, as well as Ambassador Stevens' parents, aboard Air Force One on his way to Nevada Wednesday afternoon.

"On all of these calls, he has offered his condolences and made clear that his thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of the American people, are with the family members of those we lost," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

"He thanked the family members for the service to their country that Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith provided and made clear his commitment that justice be done when it comes to finding out who is responsible for the attack that lead to their death," he added.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio