CAIRO — 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 U.S. Consulate, according to witnesses and a new video that emerged 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 didn’t know who he was, only that he was a foreigner, the man who shot the video and two other witnesses told The Associated Press.
The account underlines the confusion that reigned during the assault by protesters and heavily armed gunmen that overwhelmed the consulate in Benghazi last Tuesday night, killing four Americans, including Stevens, who died from smoke inhalation soon after he was found. U.S. officials are still trying to piece together how the top American 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.”
U.S. 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 United States that, hours before the Benghazi assault, had sparked protests at the American 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 9/11 anniversary.
However, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said it appeared spontaneous and unplanned, that extremists with heavier weapons “hijacked” the protest and turned it into an outright attack. She noted Libya is awash with weapons.
A CIA memo sent to U.S. lawmakers this weekend, and obtained by The Associated Press, says current intelligence still suggests the demonstrations in Benghazi “were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. 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.
The video has been authenticated since 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. The photographer and student who were with al-Bakoush at the scene gave the same account as he did.
“We were happy to see him alive. The youths tried to rescue him. But there was no security, no ambulances, nothing to help,” said Ahmed Shams, the 22-year-old arts student.
When they entered the consulate, “there was no one around. There was no firefighters, no ambulances, no relief,” said the photographer, Abdel-Qader Fadl.
The accounts of all three witnesses mesh with that of the doctor who treated Stevens that night.
Dr. Ziad Abu Zeid told The Associated Press last week that Stevens was nearly lifeless when he was brought by Libyans, with no other Americans around, to the Benghazi hospital where he worked. He said Stevens had severe asphyxia from the smoke and that he tried for 90 minutes to resuscitate him with no success. Only later did security officials confirm it was Stevens.
Fadl said he drove to the hospital behind the car carrying Stevens.
During the assault, more than 30 U.S. staffers were evacuated from the consulate. So far, U.S. officials have not announced the results of an investigation into the circumstances of the four Americans’ deaths.
They have said preliminary reports said that amid the evacuation, Stevens and foreign service officer Sean Smith were inside the consulate with a regional security officer. They got separated in the smoke. The security officer and others went back in to try to find the two of them and found Smith dead. They pulled him out but flames and gunfire forced them to flee before they could find Stevens.
Al-Bakoush and his colleagues said that once they learned his identity, they were stunned Stevens had been alone.
“I’ve never seen incompetence and negligence like this, from the two sides, the Americans and the Libyans,” he said. “You can sacrifice everyone but rescue the ambassador. He is the ambassador for God’s sake.”