Witnesses differ with U.S. on timing of Libya attack
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BENGHAZI, Libya -- Witnesses in Benghazi, Libya, provide a chronology for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate here that differs in significant ways from timelines released by U.S. officials in Washington, raising more questions about how the assault unfolded and the speed with which Americans at a nearby CIA annex responded to calls for help from the consulate.
The versions of the attack told here indicate that the last visitor who met with Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the assault on the consulate, departed at least 45 minutes earlier than U.S. officials in Washington have said. Witnesses here also suggest that the attack may have begun as many as 15 minutes earlier than officials in Washington have said.
Witnesses also said there was no indication that anyone in the U.S. diplomatic compound was aware before the assault that protests had broken out in neighboring Egypt over an inflammatory film about the Prophet Muhammad that was produced in the United States.
The differences in the timelines could mean that CIA officers stationed in a compound just 1.2 miles away may have waited as long as 40 minutes before setting out to assist the besieged consulate and might not have arrived there until more than an hour after the attack began.
At a minimum, the witness accounts suggest that after two months, the U.S. government still may not know the basic sequence of events and when key moments in the assault occurred.
On the evening of Sept. 11, Stevens met with the Turkish consul here, Ali Sait Akin, in what everyone agrees was his last official act. While State Department officials said Stevens escorted the Turkish consul out of the compound at 8:30 p.m., a guard at the compound and an official familiar with the meeting said Mr. Akin left at 7:45 p.m.
A security guard said he distinctly remembered the time of the meeting because about a half-hour before Mr. Akin was scheduled to meet with Stevens, the ambassador approached the guard, introduced himself and asked what security measures were needed to allow the Turkish consul to enter. Stevens told him Mr. Akin would arrive at 6:30 p.m. for an hour-long meeting.
As the guard and Stevens spoke, the protests in Cairo had been going on for nearly two hours. Stevens didn't mention the film to the guard, and no one from the compound warned the guard about possible protests throughout the night, the guard said.
Mr. Akin arrived on time and the men met for an hour, the guard said.
The guard made a note of the time of Mr. Akin's arrival and departure in a book in which the guards tracked all movements, he said.
State Department officials have said the attack started at 9:40 p.m., a time that the CIA timeline also sets as the approximate beginning. A Pentagon account of its response said the assault started at 9:42 p.m.
But two guards at the compound told McClatchy that the attack began earlier; one said at 9:25 p.m. and the other at 9:35.
Behind the compound, at a nearby restaurant, a Western diplomat who was having dinner heard a mortar round go off around 9:30 p.m.
First Published November 13, 2012 12:00 am