While the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has dominated headlines for more than a week, the facts of what actually happened during the Sept. 11 assault are still far from settled. A myriad of questions remain such as the identity of the attackers, the degree to which the assault was pre-planned and why security at the consulate was so insufficient, but new accounts bring us closer to how events unfolded that night and how U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed. To help sort it all out, this is a timeline of what we know so far about the attack, sequenced in Benghazi time.
8:00 to 9:30 p.m. This is the most disputed period of the evening. At 8 p.m., Ambassador Stevens finished a meeting with the Turkish consul general and, according to The Wall Street Journal, said he was "retiring for the night." What happened next has still not been established. Obama administration officials say that around 8 p.m.. a mob of Muslim protesters gathered around the U.S. consulate to protest the U.S. film Innocence of Muslims. Yesterday, however, CBS News reported that witnesses at the scene say there was never an anti-American protest outside the consulate. "That is in direct contradiction to the administration's account of the incident," said CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan. In today's paper, The New York Times also reported that witnesses say no anti-American protests occurred at the consulate: "Libyan witnesses, including two guards at the building, say the area around the compound was quiet until the attackers arrived." The map on the right shows a Google satellite image of the consulate.
9:30 p.m. The attackers arrive, approaching the consulate from three sides, armed with rocket-propelled grenades. According to The Journal, the militants breached the front and east walls around the building, and Americans began firing from inside. The Times says 20 Americans are inside at this time. The building was not heavily guarded and at no point were Marines involved in the fighting, despite initial reports.
9:35 to 10:30 p.m. The consulate alarm goes off and Libyan guards call for backup as militants gain access to the compound. "They fire rocket-propelled grenades into the main building. Mr. Stevens, [computer technician] Sean Smith and an American security officer are inside," reports The Times. "The security officer makes it outside. He returns to rescue the others and finds Mr. Smith dead but does not find Mr. Stevens." At 10 p.m., the consulate is burning in flames and, according to the Journal, the security officer was joined by Libyan government reinforcements who just arrived. "They guard front and rear gates as militants begin to crowd at rear gate. U.S. and Libyan guards enter burning building." The guards were also unable to find Ambassador Stevens.
10:45 p.m. At this point, American security personnel try to take back the main building of the consulate but fail. According to The Times they retreat to another compound about a half-mile away traveling in "two cars" according to The Journal.
12:30 a.m. Looters descend on the consulate and pull the ambassador out of the building. According to The Times, these same Libyans were responsible for bringing Stevens to the hospital. Video footage of Stevens being dragged out of the compound later surfaced online (most notably, the Drudge Report), with images of Libyans cheering and praising Allah.
1:00 a.m. A half hour later, Stevens arrives at Benghazi Medical Center and is described as "unresponsive," according to the Journal. The Times says "The doctor who treats him says he may have died from smoke inhalation. Americans are unaware of his whereabouts at this point." The map to the right shows the route from the consulate to the Benghazi Medical Center (5.1 kilometers by car.)
1:30 a.m. Enter the reinforcements: "An American rescue team arrives from Tripoli at Benghazi’s airport and drives to the second compound," reports the Times.
2 a.m. This is where phase two of the attack is reported to have begun and where evidence emerges, according to some observers, that the attack was pre-planned and coordinated. "As the staff is preparing to leave the second compound, it comes under fire. More than 20 staff members retreat to a building at the back of the compound," reports the Times. Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both American security officers, were killed in the shootout. Describing the confrontation, the Times says "The attackers had lain in wait, silently observing as the rescuers, including eight State Department civilians who had just landed at the airport in Benghazi, arrived in large convoys. This second attack was shorter in duration than the first, but more complex and sophisticated. It was an ambush."
3 to 4 a.m. Ambassador Stevens' body is found at the Benghazi hospital by Libyan security forces. After his colleague's describe his features, Libyans identify the body.
6:30 a.m. Time to leave. The U.S. survivors are flown to Tripoli. Shortly afterwards, the bodies of the murdered Americans are flown out of Benghazi as well.