BENGHAZI, Libya — The mayhem here that killed four U.S. diplomatic personnel, including the ambassador, was actually two attacks — the first one spontaneous, and the second highly organized and possibly aided by anti-American infiltrators of the young Libya government, a top Libyan security official said Thursday.
The account by the official, Wanis el-Sharif, given to a few reporters here, was the most detailed yet of the chaotic events on Tuesday in this eastern Libyan city that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador killed in more than 30 years.
The deaths occurred amid a wave of anti-U.S. protests convulsing the Middle East, inspired by an inflammatory anti-Islamic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that has spread on the Internet in recent days since it was publicized in Egypt. Protests expanded Thursday to at least a half-dozen other countries, including Iran.
El-Sharif, a deputy interior minister, said Stevens and a second U.S. diplomat, Sean Smith, were killed in the initial attack, which began as a disorganized but angry demonstration by civilians and militants outside the U.S. Consulate on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The protest escalated into an assault by as many as 200 people, some armed with grenades, who set the building on fire.
The second wave, el-Sharif said, was hours later, when the consulate staff had been spirited to a safe house in a villa a mile away. At that point, a team of Libyan security officials were evacuating them into a convoy, guarded by Marines and Libyan security officials who had been flown from Tripoli to retrieve them.
El-Sharif said the second attack was a premeditated ambush on the convoy by assailants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and who apparently knew the route the vehicles were taking. The other two Americans — identified on Thursday as Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former members of the Navy SEALs — were killed in that assault. At least 12 Americans and 18 Libyan security officials were wounded, el-Sharif said.
“The first part was chaotic and disorganized. The second part was organized and planned,” he said. The ambushers in the second assault, he said, apparently “had infiltrators who were feeding them the information.”
Parts of el-Sharif’s account were not consistent with what other Libyan witnesses have said, and his version has not been corroborated by U.S. officials, who have said it remains unclear how and where Stevens was killed. Many Libyans considered Stevens a hero for his support of their uprising last year against Moammar Gadhafi.
Two Libyans who were injured while guarding the consulate said that contrary to el-Sharif’s account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside.