Right after the poorly shot, poorly pieced-together “Muhammad Movie” hit the web a few days ago, some people quickly began to piece together things that didn’t make sense. The supposed writer/director was a person who didn’t exist, the overdubbing was incorrect, the film looks like it was hastily put together from pieces of other movies, etc. And now, US officials think that the inflammatory film was put together to incite a riot to cover up a well-planned attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The attack followed a violent protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo over a low-budget anti-Muslim film made in the United States, and it initially appeared that the assault on the Benghazi consulate was another spontaneous response. But senior U.S. officials and Middle East analysts raised questions Wednesday about the motivation for the Benghazi attack, noting that it involved the use of a rocket-propelled grenade and followed an al-Qaeda call to avenge the death of a senior Libyan member of the terrorist network.
Libyan officials and a witness said the attackers took advantage of a protest over the film to launch their assault.
Stevens, 52, and the others appear to have been killed inside the temporary consulate, possibly by a rocket-propelled grenade, according to officials briefed on the assault.
On Wednesday, administration officials described a fast-moving assault on the Benghazi compound, which quickly overwhelmed Libyan guards and U.S. security forces, and separated the Americans from the ambassador they were supposed to protect. U.S. personnel lost touch with Stevens just minutes into the attack, about 10 p.m. Benghazi time. They didn’t see him again until his body was returned to U.S. custody, sometime around dawn.
“Frankly, we are not clear on the circumstances between the time he got separated from the group inside the burning building, to the time we were notified he was in Benghazi hospital,” a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters. “We were not able to see him until his body was returned to us at the airport.”
Stevens, based in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, happened to be visiting the U.S. outpost in Benghazi at the time of the attack. Officials said he was one of perhaps 25 or 30 people inside the U.S. consulate compound and its annex at 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. Washington time), when unidentified gunmen began firing from outside.
Within 15 minutes, the officials said, the gunmen had entered the compound, and set its main building on fire. Three people were inside: Stevens, Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information management officer, and a Department of State security officer. As the building filled with dark smoke, the three became separated.
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