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Libya PM: At least 1 arrest in killings of Americans in Libya

September 13th, 2012
03:32 PM ET

Libya's PM on deadly attacks, protests

Where is the 'Arab Spring' heading?

- NEW: 3 or 4 others are being sought, prime minister says
- U.S. warships with guided missiles are moving toward the Libyan coast, officials say
- Libya's prime minister denounces the "cowardly criminal act" in Benghazi
- Analyst: "Jihadists will want the world to believe that the attack is just a part of the protests"

(CNN) - At least one person has been arrested in the killing Tuesday of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the Libyan prime minister said Thursday.

"Three or four are currently being pursued," Mustafa Abushagur told Christiane Amanpour, anchor of on CNN International's "Amanpour." and ABC's Global Affairs Anchor. He said the arrest was made early in the day in Benghazi and that the person arrested and those being sought are all Libyans.

Earlier, the Libyan state-run news agency LANA said more than one person had been arrested. It cited the deputy minister of interior in the eastern region, Wanees al-Sharif, as its source.

Libyans hold up signs apologizing

The announcement came as the United States is struggling to determine whether a militant group planned the attack that killed the four Americans, even as warships head toward the north African country as part of a mission to hunt down and punish the killers.

Conflicting theories flew in the hours after Stevens, another diplomat and two State Department security officers were killed late Tuesday in the eastern city of Benghazi.

They died amid a protest outside the U.S. Consulate over a film that ridiculed Muslims and depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer.

The demonstration was one of several protests across the region that day.

But U.S. sources said Wednesday the four-hour assault in Benghazi had been planned by militants, with the attackers using the protest as a diversion.

A U.S. intelligence official told CNN the picture is becoming clearer within the intelligence community as to what group or groups were responsible for the attack. Given what officials know about al Qaeda in Libya, U.S. intelligence officials believe it is very unlikely that core al Qaeda was behind the attack, the official said.

State Department Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy said Wednesday that the attack appeared planned because it was so extensive and because of the "proliferation" of small and medium weapons at the scene. He was briefing congressional staffers when he offered that theory.

It was echoed by a London think tank with strong ties to Libya.

The assault "came to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago," the think tank Quilliam said Wednesday.

How militias exploited Libya vacuum

It was "the work of roughly 20 militants, prepared for a military assault," the think tank said, noting that rocket-propelled grenade launchers do not normally appear at peaceful protests, and that there were no other protests against the film elsewhere in Libya.

"Jihadists will want the world to believe that the attack is just a part of the protests against an amateur film produced in the U.S., which includes crude insults regarding the Prophet Mohammed," Quilliam President Noman Benotman said. "They will want the world to think that their actions represent a popular Libyan and wider Muslim reaction; thus, reversing the perception of jihadists being outcasts from their own societies."

But on Thursday, three U.S. officials told CNN that they have seen no evidence the attack was premeditated.

The investigation and quest for justice

The United States is deploying warships and surveillance drones in its hunt for the killers of the diplomatic staffers, and a contingent of 50 Marines has arrived to boost the security of Americans in the country.

The drones are expected to gather intelligence to be given to Libyan officials for strikes, the official said.

Two American destroyers were en route to the Libyan coast, U.S. officials told CNN. Both the USS Laboon and USS McFaul are equipped with satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The move "will give the administration flexibility" in case it opts to take action against targets inside Libya, one senior official said. As of late Wednesday, the McFaul was making a port call on the Mediterranean island of Crete, while the Laboon was outside Gibraltar, a few days' sail from Libya.

"We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act," U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday. "And make no mistake, justice will be done."

Obama called Libya's Mohamed Magariaf on Wednesday, thanking the newly elected president of Libya's parliament for his condolences on the deaths of the Americans.

"The two presidents agreed to work closely over the course of this investigation," the White House said in a statement. Obama "reaffirmed our support for Libya's democratic transition, a cause Ambassador Stevens believed in deeply and did so much to advance. He welcomed the election of a new prime minister yesterday to help lead the Libyan government's efforts to improve security, counter extremism, and advance its democracy."

Tuesday's attack took place on the 11th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington. But White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said assigning any motive for the attack was "premature."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the evaluation of security at the Benghazi, Libya, consulate in advance of the September 11 anniversary was "appropriate for what we knew." She cited a local guard force stationed around the outer perimeters and a "robust" American security presence in the compound.

Libya's response and ties to the United States

Libyan leaders apologized for the attack, with Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib calling it a "cowardly, criminal act."

Obama said that, despite the inflammatory movie, the violence was unwarranted.

"Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," he said. "But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence - none."

The United States and Libya have embarked on a new relationship since rebels toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.

U.S. and NATO warplanes helped the Benghazi-based rebellion against Gadhafi, who was wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of crimes against humanity before the ruler was killed in October.

The jihadists suspected in Tuesday night's attack "are a very small minority" who are taking advantage of a fledgling democracy, said Ali Suleiman Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to the United States.

Sources tracking militant Islamist groups in eastern Libya say a pro-al Qaeda group responsible for a previous armed assault on the Benghazi consulate is the chief suspect. A senior defense official told CNN the drones would be part of "a stepped-up, more focused search" for a particular insurgent cell that may have been behind the killings.

In June, a senior Libyan official told CNN that U.S. controllers were already flying the unmanned craft over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns about rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region.

How the attack happened

On Tuesday night, protesters were outside the consulate in Benghazi, demonstrating against the film "Innocence of Muslims," which reportedly was made in California by a filmmaker whose identity is unclear.

Eventually, a group of heavily armed militants "infiltrated the march to start chaos," according to Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif.

Initial reports indicate the four-hour assault began around 10 p.m., when gunmen opened fire on the main compound of the U.S. Consulate complex. Within 15 minutes, the gunmen entered the building.

A senior U.S. official said a rocket-propelled grenade set the consulate ablaze. American and Libyan security personnel tried to fight the attackers and the fire.

As the fire spread, three people - Stevens, Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith, and a U.S. regional security officer - were inside a safe room, senior State Department officials said.

Smith was later found dead, apparently of smoke inhalation, officials said. It's unclear how Stevens died.

Glen Doherty, a guard, was also killed at the consulate.

One other American, whose name hasn't been released, was killed, and another two were wounded during a gun battle between security forces and militants at the complex, a senior administration official said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Stevens and his commitment to Libya on Wednesday.

"He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya's revolutionaries," she said after his death was announced. "He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to build a better Libya."

Doherty's sister, Katie Quigley, spoke to reporters Thursday outside the family home in Woburn, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

"Glen lived his life to the fullest," she said. "He was my brother, but if you ask his friends he was their brother as well."

How extremists incite protests

CNN’s Meredith Milstein produced the interview with Tariq Ramadan for television.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Moore michael

    Justice would surely be done their action was unjustifiable you dont fight for God it is an act of ignorance

    September 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  2. BUZZY

    The fight between good and evil is spiritual and universal but why always look for US magnetic compass

    September 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  3. rowan

    Just look at the individuals that were in the photos of our Ambassador being drug thru the streets!

    September 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  4. Omoba

    American are problem to the most countries,they crate eneminity amoung then and being claming War Power,i know one day .................

    September 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • James Livingston

      I have to agree. The US Military decisions to have some of their prisoners sent to third party states such as Poland, Libya under Qaddafi and Syria under Assad for so called 'Enhanced Interrogation' must in the long term create a few problems. It would be reasonable to assume Qaddafi's prisoners would have be set free by fellow Muslim militants as will probably happen in Syria when the Sunni forces prevail. We all know by now 'Enhanced Interrogation' includes torture techniques illegal in the USA.

      September 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  5. Don WV

    BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) - The attack that killed four Americans in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador, was an organized two-part operation by heavily armed militants that included a precisely timed raid on a supposedly secret safe house just as Libyan and U.S. security forces were arriving to rescue evacuated consulate staff, a senior Libyan security official said on Thursday.

    Wanis el-Sharef, eastern Libya's deputy interior minister, said the attacks Tuesday night were suspected to have been timed to mark the 9/11 anniversary and that the militants used civilians protesting an anti-Islam film as cover for their action. Infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off militants to the safe house location, he said.

    He said an unspecified number of militants suspected of taking part in the attack have been arrested and that others were being closely monitored by police to see whether they are linked to a group. He refused to elaborate.

    Ambassador Chris Stevens and another American were killed in the consulate during the initial violence, as plainclothes Libyan security were evacuating the consulate's staff to the safe house about a mile away, el-Sharef said. The second assault took place several hours later and targeted the safe house – a villa inside the grounds of the city's equestrian club – killing two Americans and wounding a number of Libyans and Americans.

    El-Sharef, who was running the Interior Ministry's operations room commanding security forces in the city, gave The Associated Press an account of the night's chaotic events.

    The crowd built at the consulate – a one-story villa surrounded by a large garden in an upscale Benghazi neighborhood – in several stages, he said. First, a small group of gunmen arrived, then a crowd of civilians angry over the film. Later, heavily armed men with armored vehicles, some with rocket-propelled grenades, joined, swelling the numbers to more than 200.

    The gunmen fired into the air outside the consulate. Libyan security guarding the site pulled out because they were too few. "We thought there was no way for the protesters to storm the compound, which had fortified walls," he said. El-Sharef said Libyan security advised the Americans to evacuate at that point, but he says the advice was ignored. There was shooting in the air from inside the consulate compound, he said.


    At this point, he said, the crowd stormed the compound. The consulate was looted and burned, while plainclothes security men were sent to evacuate the personnel.

    Stevens, he said, is likely to have died of asphyxiation following a grenade explosion that started a fire, el-Sharef said. Ziad Abu Zeid, a Libyan doctor to whom Stevens' body was taken, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the 52-year-old Stevens died of asphyxiation.

    U.S. officials have said attackers broke into the main consulate building at around 10:15 p.m. and set the compound on fire. Amid the evacuation, Stevens became separated from others, and staffers and security that tried to find him were forced to flee by flames, smoke and gunfire. After an hour, according to U.S. officials, U.S. and Libyan officials drove the attackers from the consulate.

    The next attack came hours later. Around 30 American staffers along with Libyans had been evacuated to the safe house while a plane arrived from Tripoli with a joint U.S.-Libyan security group that was to fly them back to the capital, el-Sharef said.

    El-Sharef said the original plan was for a separate Libyan security unit to escort the evacuees to the airport. Instead, the joint unit went from the airport to the safe house, possibly because they were under the impression they were dealing with a hostage situation, he said. The militant attack coincided with the joint team's arrival at the safe house, he said.

    That the attackers knew the safe house's location suggests a "spy" inside the security forces tipped off the militants, he said.

    U.S. officials have not confirmed the account. They have spoken of an attack on the consulate's annex that killed two Americans, but said their report on the incident was still preliminary.

    September 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  6. Don WV

    It was reckless to leave the Benghazi consulate protected by half a dozen Libyan guards of dubious loyalty. Last month, the State Department warned US citizens to avoid Libya for all but essential travel, describing it as place of political violence and militia battles. Only the State Department appears to have failed to heed to its own advice.

    Even more seriously, the Obama administration – with France and Britain taking the lead – engineered regime change in Libya without much thought for the future. Libya provided a steady supply of jihadists to fight in Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda's second in command after Osama bin Laden died, Abu Yahya Al Libi, killed by a US drone in June.

    His death was confirmed in an Al Qaeda video on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This video could have been the signal for the old jihadist's comrades-in-arms to attack the consulate. Ex-members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group have plenty of grievances against the US and Britain, which conspired to turn over captured suspects for torture in Muammar Qaddafi's jails before the uprising.

    September 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  7. James Livingston

    Perhaps we should remember that Qaddafi's Libya was a favorite destination for the US military to send prisoners for so called 'Enhanced Interrogation'. I would not be surprised if some of the attackers were connected to survivors from that time.

    September 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  8. zzap999

    We all know Barack Hussein Obama is going to light up Libya right before election day to make up for the embassy deaths.

    September 14, 2012 at 2:21 am | Reply
  9. biocane

    Sorry, Mr. Prime Minister. You protestations to the contrary, it's pretty obvious to the civilized world that the adults are not in charge in Libya.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  10. J. Gräf

    I have been waiting to see, a tear it down report about this supposed video cause and effect...
    From what I saw of this Video, I cannot understand the wide spread anger against America.
    This is the result of one/few Crazy freaks...
    Why can't anyone take it apart and let us see the insanity of one's reaction to this action...
    Why have I not seen more Scholars talking about this?
    Where r the BRAVE Women/Men willing to set the record straight!
    This has nothing to do about religion.

    September 15, 2012 at 7:01 am | Reply
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