BEIRUT

Middle East

Security chiefs lose jobs over Benghazi attack

  • Al-Bakoush shows a video he took of the body of Stevens being carried out of a small dark room in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

TRIPOLI/WASHINGTON: Libya has sacked its security chiefs for Benghazi after a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city last week, Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel-A’al told Reuters.

Colonel Salahadeen Doghman will replace the deputy interior minister for the east, Wanis Sharif, as well as the head of national security for Benghazi, Hassan Bou Hmida.

“The decision to replace Mr. Sharif and the security chief was made last week,” Abdel A’al said.

“We will do what we think is right if there is a weakness within the security leadership that has affected the security work in the city.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans died when gunmen attacked the consulate and a “safe house” in the eastern city last Tuesday night.

The attackers were part of a crowd that blamed the United States for a video posted online that mocks the Prophet Mohammad, although top U.S. and Libyan officials have offered starkly different accounts about the attack.

Stevens is believed to have died from smoke inhalation after being trapped in the blazing diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms for several hours.

But witnesses told the Associated Press Monday that Stevens was still breathing when Libyans stumbled across him inside a room in the consulate in Benghazi, cheering, “Alive, alive” and “God is great” as they tried to rescue him.

Fahd al-Bakoush, a freelance videographer, said he heard someone call out that he had tripped over a dead body.

A group of people gathered as several men pulled the seemingly lifeless form from the room. They saw he was alive and a foreigner, though no one knew who he was, Bakoush said.

“He was alive,” he said, adding that Stevens was breathing and that his eyelids flickered. “No doubt. His face was blackened, and he was like a paralyzed person.”

A video taken by Bakoush and posted on YouTube shows Stevens being carried out of a dark room through a window with a raised shutter by a crowd of men. “The man is alive. Move out of the way,” others shout. “Just bring him out, man.”

“Move, move, he is still alive!”

“Alive, alive! God is great,” the crowd erupts, while someone calls to take Stevens to a car.

The next scene shows Stevens lying on a tile floor, with one man touching his neck to check his pulse.

The video can been verified as Stevens’ face is clearly visible and he is wearing the same white T-shirt seen in authenticated photos of him being carried away on another man’s shoulders, presumably moments later.

Two colleagues of Bakoush who also witnessed the scene confirmed that he took the footage.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the attack was revenge for the killing of the terror network’s deputy leader Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi in a drone strike in June, but there is no clear evidence to support this claim.

U.S. authorities initially leaned more toward the premeditated, well-planned assault angle, citing the fact that the attack came on the anniversary of 9/11.

But now they are more reticent, insisting that journalists wait for the results of the FBI investigation before leaping to any conclusions.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Sunday it began with a spontaneous protest over the anti-Islamic video that had already set off similar protests in Egypt, leading to the storming of the U.S. embassy there.

“People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent,” Rice told “Fox News Sunday.” “Those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya ... [it] then spun out of control.

“We don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, [or a] premeditated attack.”

But Mohammad al-Megaryef, president of the Libyan National Congress, told CBS News that the attack was the work of foreign extremists who entered Libya from Mali and Algeria and planned the violence with local “affiliates and sympathizers.”

Rice’s comments are the strongest indication yet that – even if the U.S. does believe the assault was the work of a small band of extremists – it has no evidence to suggest planning prior to the protests.

A leading Republican senator and critic of the administration of President Barack Obama, John McCain, said it was ridiculous to believe this was anything other than a planned assault by extremists.

“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” McCain told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“That was an act of terror. For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.”

Rice’s remarks drew criticism from The Wall Street Journal, a conservative paper, which said that her argument “intended to shield Obama Administration policies from any domestic political blame for the attacks.”

“The far greater provocation to violence is the appearance of U.S. weakness,” the paper said in an editorial. “The administration’s feeble response in the last week only invites radicals to use more such excuses to kill more Americans.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2012, on page 9.
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