Libyans tried to rescue ambassador Chris Stevens, cheering “God is great” and rushing him to a hospital after they discovered him still clinging to life inside the US Consulate, according to witnesses and a new video that emerged on Monday from last week’s attack in the city of Benghazi.
The group of Libyans had stumbled across Stevens’ seemingly lifeless form inside a dark room and did not know who he was, only that he was a foreigner, the man who shot the video and two other witnesses said.
The account underlines the confusion that reigned during the assault by protesters and heavily armed gunmen that overwhelmed the consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, killing four Americans, including Stevens, who died from smoke inhalation soon after he was found. US officials are still trying to piece together how the top US diplomat in Libya got separated from others as staffers were evacuated, suffocating in what is believed to be a consulate safe room.
The Libyans who found him expressed frustration that there was no ambulance and no first aid on hand, leaving him to be slung over a man’s shoulder to be carried to a car.
“There was not a single ambulance to carry him. Maybe he was handled the wrong way,” said Fahd al-Bakoush, a freelance videographer who shot the footage. “They took him to a private car.”
US and Libyan officials are also trying to determine who was behind the attack. Still unclear was whether it had been planned beforehand or was sparked by an anti-Islam film made in the US that, hours before the Benghazi assault, had sparked protests at the US embassy in Cairo.
On Sunday, Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif contended foreign militants had been plotting the attack for months and timed it for Tuesday’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks anniversary.
However, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said it appeared spontaneous and unplanned, that extremists with heavier weapons “hijacked” the protest and turned it into an outright attack. She said Libya is awash with weapons.
A CIA memo sent to US lawmakers this weekend, and obtained by reporters, says current intelligence still suggests the demonstrations in Benghazi “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo” and “evolved into a direct assault” on the diplomatic posts by “extremists.”
Soon after the attack, Libyan civilians roamed freely around the trashed consulate, its walls blacked and furniture burned. Among them were the videographer al-Bakoush, and a photographer and art student he often works with.
They heard a panicked shout, “I stepped over a dead man,” and rushed to see what was going on, al-Bakoush said. The body had been found inside a dark room with a locked door accessible only by a window. A group of men pulled him out and realized he was a foreigner and still alive.
He was breathing and his eyelids flickered, al-Bakoush said.
“He was alive,” he said. “No doubt. His face was blackened and he was like a paralyzed person.”
Video taken by al-Bakoush and posted on YouTube shows Stevens being carried out of the room through a window with a raised shutter.
“Bring him out, man,” someone shouts. “Out of the way, out of the way!”
“Alive, Alive!” come other shouts, then a cheer of “God is great.”
The next scene shows Stevens lying on a tile floor, with one man touching his neck to check his pulse. Al-Bakoush said that after that scene, they put Stevens in a private car to rush to the hospital.