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Timeline of events, comments surrounding Benghazi

Friday - 10/19/2012, 5:43pm  ET

By LARRY MARGASAK
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, focused on the evolving Obama administration explanations.

Prior to the Sept. 11 assault that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, a 14-minute video surfaced on the Internet as a trailer to a low-budget movie insulting the Prophet Muhammad. On the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and attacked the U.S. compound in Benghazi.

Here is a timeline showing key events and statements about the Benghazi attack by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Republican senators and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The State Department provided the timeline for Sept. 10-11 with local times in Benghazi; the remaining events were gathered from other AP sources.

Sept. 10-11

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens arrives in Benghazi and holds meetings on and off the consulate grounds on Sept. 10. He spends the night, and for the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks holds meetings inside the compound only. It is an enclosed area about 300 yards long by 100 yards wide, with a 9-foot outer wall topped by barbed wire and augmented by barriers, steel drop bars and other security upgrades. There are four buildings in the compound. Five diplomatic security officers are present, along with four members of a local militia deployed by Libya's government to provide added security.

Around 8:30 p.m.

Stevens finishes his final meeting of the day and escorts a Turkish diplomat outside the main entrance of the consulate. The situation is calm. There are no protests.

Around 9:40 p.m.

Agents hear loud noises, gunfire and explosions near the front gate. A barracks at the entrance housing the local militiamen is burnt down. Agents viewing cameras see a large group of armed men flowing into the compound. Alarm is sounded. Telephone calls are made to the embassy in Tripoli, officials in Washington, the Libyan authorities and a U.S. quick reaction force located at a second compound a little more than a mile away.

Grabbing weapons

One agent, armed with a sidearm and an M4 submachine gun, takes Stevens and computer specialist Sean Smith to a safe room inside one of the compound's two main residences. It has a heavy metal grill and several locks, medical supplies and water, and windows that can be opened only from the inside. The other agents equip themselves with long guns, body armor, helmets and ammunition at other buildings. Two try to make it to the building with Stevens. They are met by armed men and are forced to retreat.

Attackers breach the compound

Attackers penetrate Stevens' building and try to break the grill locks for the safe room but cannot gain access. They dump jerry cans of diesel fuel in the building, light furniture on fire and set aflame part of the exterior of the building. Two of the remaining four agents are in the compound's other residence. Attackers penetrate that building, but the agents barricade themselves in and the attackers can't reach them. Attackers try to enter the tactical operations center, where the last two agents are located. They smash up the door but cannot enter the building.

Americans trapped

Meanwhile, Stevens' building rapidly fills up with thick diesel smoke and burning fumes from the furniture. Inside, visibility is less than 3 feet. Unable to breathe, the Americans go to a bathroom and open a window but still can't get enough air. They decide to leave the building. The agent goes first, flopping out onto a patio enclosed by sandbags. He takes immediate fire, including probably rocket-propelled grenades. Stevens and Smith don't come out of the building. The agent, suffering severely from smoke inhalation, goes in and out of the building several times to look for them. He then climbs a ladder to the roof of the building and collapses. He radios the other agents to alert them to the situation there.

The other four agents are able to reunite and take an armored vehicle to Stevens' building. They reach the collapsed agent and try to set up a perimeter. They take turns going into the building, searching on hands and knees for the missing Americans. Smith is pulled out, dead. Stevens cannot be found.

Reinforcements

A six-person, quick-reaction security team arrives from their compound across town. About 60 Libyan militiamen accompany them. They attempt to secure a perimeter around Stevens' building and take turns going inside. Taking fire, Libyan forces determine they can't hold the perimeter. A decision is made to evacuate the compound and return with everyone to the reaction force's compound.

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