Benghazi: The attack that killed four Americans in Libya, including the US ambassador, was an organised two-part operation by heavily-armed militants that included a precisely timed raid on a supposedly secret safe house just as Libyan and US security forces were arriving to rescue evacuated consulate staff, a senior Libyan security official said on Thursday.
Wanis el-Sharef, the eastern Libya`s deputy interior minister, said the attacks on 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 a news agency an account of the night`s chaotic events.
The crowd built at the consulate -- a one-storey villa surrounded by a large garden in an upscale Benghazi neighbourhood -- 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 armoured 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.