Senior diplomatic sources say the U.S. State Department had credible information, 48 hours prior to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the embassy in Cairo, that American locations may be targeted, however, no warnings were issued, no “lock down” orders given, The Independent reports.
On Tuesday, a mob of radical Islamists stormed the consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in a fiery assault. Officials say the murders of the four men were likely the result of “a serious and continuing security breach,” the report states.
U.S. officials now believe the Libya attack was premeditated, despite initial reports that an anti-Muslim YouTube clip sparked spontaneous riots throughout the Middle East. However, Stevens’ return to Libya was intended to be confidential as well as his location in Benghazi, where he and his staff were murdered, raising additional security concerns for American assets in the country.
The attack was an organized two-part operation by heavily armed militants that included a precisely timed raid on the supposedly secret safe house just as Libyan and U.S. security forces were arriving to rescue evacuated consulate staff, a senior Libyan security official said on Thursday.
Wanis el-Sharef, eastern Libya’s deputy interior minister, said the attacks Tuesday night were suspected to have been timed to mark the 9/11 anniversary, with the militants using the film protest by Libyan civilians to mask their action.
To make the crisis in Libya worse, “sensitive documents” have reportedly gone missing from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi as well as a secret location of a “safe house” in the city, where the consulate staff had retreated to but were bombarded with a mortar attack. Other “safe houses” in the region are no longer considered safe.
The Independent has the exclusive on this story:
Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.
According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.
Mr Stevens had been on a visit to Germany, Austria and Sweden and had just returned to Libya when the Benghazi trip took place with the US embassy’s security staff deciding that the trip could be undertaken safely.
Eight Americans, some from the military, were wounded in the attack which claimed the lives of Mr Stevens, Sean Smith, an information officer, and two US Marines. All staff from Benghazi have now been moved to the capital, Tripoli, and those whose work is deemed to be non-essential may be flown out of Libya.
There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa’ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.
Eastern Libya’s deputy interior minister, Wanis el-Sharef, said a mob first stormed the consulate Tuesday night and then, hours later, raided a safe house in the compound just as U.S. and Libyan security arrived to evacuate the staff. That suggested, el-Sharef said, that infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off the militants to the safe house’s location.
Killed in the attack were U.S. Ambassador Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, private security guard Glen Doherty and one other American who has yet to be identified.
El-Sharef said four people were arrested at their homes Thursday in relation to the attack, but he refused to give any further details. He said it was too early to say if the suspects belonged to a particular group or what their motive was. Libya’s new prime minister, Mustafa Abu-Shakour, said authorities were looking for more suspects.
Additionally, U.S. embassies across the world ramped up security Thursday as Muslims reportedly angry over an anti-Islam film stormed the U.S. mission in Yemen and clashed with police near the American mission in Cairo.
In Yemen, hundreds of protesters chanting “Death to America!” stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in the capital, Sanaa, and burned the American flag. Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, quickly apologized to the U.S. for the attack and vowed track down the culprits.
To read the rest of the report from The Independent, click here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.