Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By HAMZA HENDAWI and OSAMA ALFITORY / The Associated Press
BENGHAZI, Libya — Heavily armed militants used a protest of an anti-Islam film as a cover and may have had help from inside Libyan security in their deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate, a senior Libyan official said Thursday.
Libyans walk on the grounds of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after a militant attack Tuesday left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52.
The Associated Press
CALIFORNIA MAN BEHIND ANTI-MUSLIM FILM, OFFICIAL SAYS
WASHINGTON - Federal authorities identified a Southern California man who is on federal probation for financial crimes as the key figure behind an anti-Muslim film that has spawned mob violence against American embassies across the Mideast, a U.S. law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
There was no sign of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, at his family's home Thursday in Cerritos outside Los Angeles, as details slowly began to emerge about his checkered past, his connections among Southern California's right-wing Christian organizations and his central role in the production of the film.
Excerpts from the movie, which the filmmaker said was called "Innocence of Muslims," enraged Islamic protesters in Egypt, Libya and Yemen over its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.
Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Thursday that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats killed during an attack on the American mission in Benghazi. It was not immediately clear whether authorities were focusing on Nakoula as part of that probe.
Much about the film remains a mystery, including who financed it. Several actors have come forward and claimed they were duped about their roles, and that incendiary language was dubbed over their lines.
-- The Associated Press
As Libya announced the first four arrests, the clearest picture yet emerged of a two-pronged assault with militants screaming "God is great!" as they scaled the consulate's outer walls and descended on the compound's main building. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in the rampage.
Eastern Libya's deputy interior minister, Wanis el-Sharef, said a mob first stormed the consulate Tuesday night and then, hours later, raided a safe house in the compound just as U.S. and Libyan security arrived to evacuate the staff. That suggested, el-Sharef said, that infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off the militants to the safe house's location.
The attacks were suspected to have been timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strike in the United States, el-Sharef said, with the militants using the film protest by Libyan civilians to mask their action. But U.S. officials said they had yet to find direct evidence of a connection.
Killed in the attack were U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, private security guard Glen Doherty and one other American who has yet to be identified.
El-Sharef said four people were arrested at their homes Thursday, but he refused to give any further details. He said it was too early to say if the suspects belonged to a particular group or what their motive was. Libya's new prime minister, Mustafa Abu-Shakour, said authorities were looking for more suspects.
One of five private security guards at the consulate said the surprise attack began around 9:30 p.m. when several grenades that were lobbed over the outer wall exploded in the compound and bullets rained down.
The guard was wounded in the left leg from shrapnel. He said he was lying on the ground, bleeding and in excruciating pain, when a bearded gunman came down the wall and shot him twice in the right leg, screaming: "You infidel, you are defending infidels!"
"Later, someone asked me who I was. I said I was the gardener and then I passed out. I woke up in the hospital," said the guard, who spoke to The Associated Press from his bed at a Benghazi hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals and reprimands from his employers.
Speaking at his Benghazi office, el-Sharef, who was running the Interior Ministry's operations room commanding security forces in the city during the attack, gave the most detailed account to date to come out of Libya of what happened the night of the attack. His version, however, leaves some questions unanswered and does not provide a definitive explanation on the motives behind the attack and the identity of the perpetrators.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Some Libyan officials have pointed the finger at a hardline Islamist militia, the Ansar al-Shariah Brigades, one of multiple Libyan militias operating in the city. A spokesman for the group lavishly praised the assault for "protecting the faith and fighting for the victory of God Almighty." But he said the Brigades "did not participate as an organization. This was a popular uprising."
Adding to the confusion surrounding the attack is that it targeted the United States, a nation that played a key role in ridding the oil-rich nation of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Stevens was credited by most Libyans with organizing a political front made up of opposition groups to unite the uprising against Gadhafi's 41-year rule, mediating tribal and regional disputes.
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