BENGHAZI, Libya -- The mayhem here that killed four U.S. diplomatic personnel, including the ambassador, was actually two attacks -- the first one spontaneous and the second highly organized and possibly aided by anti-American infiltrators of the young Libya government, a top Libyan security official said Thursday.
The account by the official, Wanis el-Sharif, given to a few reporters, was the most detailed yet of the chaotic events Tuesday in the eastern Libyan city that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador killed in more than 30 years.
The killings occurred amid a wave of anti-U.S. protests convulsing the Middle East, inspired by an American-made inflammatory anti-Islamic video, "The Innocence of Muslims," that has spread on the Internet in recent days since it was publicized in Egypt. Protests expanded Thursday to at least a half-dozen other countries, including Iran.
El-Sharif, a deputy interior minister, said Stevens and a second U.S. diplomat, Sean Smith, were killed in the initial attack, which began as a disorganized but angry demonstration by civilians and militants outside the U.S. Consulate on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The protest escalated into an assault by as many as 200 people, some armed with grenades, who set the building on fire.
The second wave, el-Sharif said, was hours later, when the consulate staff had been spirited to a safe house in a villa a mile away.
El-Sharif said the second attack was a premeditated ambush on the convoy by assailants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and who apparently knew the route the vehicles were taking. The other two Americans were killed in that assault, and at least 12 Americans and 18 Libyan security officials were wounded, el-Sharif said.
"The first part was chaotic and disorganized. The second part was organized and planned," he said. The ambushers in the second assault, he said, apparently "had infiltrators who were feeding them the information."
Parts of el-Sharif's account were not consistent with what other Libyan witnesses have said, and his version has not been corroborated by U.S. officials, who have said it remains unclear precisely how and where Stevens was killed. Many Libyans considered Stevens a hero for his support of their uprising last year against Moammar Gadhafi.
Two Libyans who were injured while guarding the consulate said that contrary to el-Sharif's account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside. One of the guards, who both spoke on condition of anonymity for their own personal safety, said he only realized the dangers around 9:30 p.m., when protesters crashed through the gate and "started shooting and throwing grenades." The other guard said he had been drinking coffee inside the compound just before the attack, and it was so quiet "there was not even a single ant."
El-Sharif spoke as Libyan officials said at least four people were in custody and the other U.S. victims were identified as Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALs who were working as security officers.
The Obama administration, which has vowed that the killers would be brought to justice, has sent 50 Marines and two warships to Libya, and the FBI has joined in the investigation.
The worst of the video-inspired violence elsewhere on Thursday was in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy and were repulsed by Yemeni security forces. The embassy's staff, sensitive to the danger, had been safely evacuated hours before, and Yemeni leaders apologized to President Barack Obama for the mayhem.
In Egypt, where the anti-American anger began Tuesday, protesters scuffled with police officers firing tear gas, and news agencies reported that as many as 200 people may have been hurt. Demonstrations were also reported outside U.S. diplomatic facilities in Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia -- where the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds -- and an anti-American protest was held in Gaza.
In Iran, where nearly all large protests must get government approval, witnesses and news reports said 500 people screaming "Death to America!" converged outside the Swiss Embassy, which handles U.S. diplomatic interests, and were restrained by hundreds of police officers.
The authorities in Afghanistan, where deadly violence has chronically flared over perceived insults to Islam, scrambled to minimize the possibility that the offending video, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a perverted buffoon, could be viewed on the Internet and provoke new protests. Afghanistan officials said they had pressed for an indefinite suspension of access to YouTube, where the video, promoted by a shadowy mélange of right-wing Christians in the United States, had received more than 1.6 million hits by Thursday.
U.S. identifies anti-Muslim filmmaker. PAGE A6
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