(BENGHAZI, Libya) — The assault on the American consulate in Libya Tuesday consisted of two separate attacks that forced the Americans from the consulate and then besieged them in a second building in a gunbattle that lasted four and half hours, according to a detailed timeline from a senior administration official.
The bloody offensive by extremists killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In addition, three more U.S. personnel were wounded.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Libyan militants a “small and savage group,” and she praised Stevens, who began working in Libya during the revolt against former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
“He risked his life to stop a tyrant and gave his life trying to build a better Libya,” she said.
The gunfire erupted around 10 p.m. Tuesday while 25-30 personnel were in the compound, which consisted of several buildings and was guarded by a Libyan security force. Libyan Deputy Interior Minister of the Eastern Region Wanis al-Sharif told a news conference on Wednesday that about 20 gun-wielding attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
By 10:15 p.m., the attackers had stormed the grounds and begun firing on the main building. The U.S. official said that Stevens, 52; Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer; and a regional security officer were in the main building, which by then had been set ablaze.
By 10:45 p.m., the trio had become separated by thick smoke as they tried to get out of the building. The regional security officer made it out of the building and U.S. security personnel tried to rescue Stevens and Smith. Smith, however, had died of smoke inhalation. His body was pulled from the building.
The searchers were unable to find Stevens before heavy gunfire forced them to retreat to a mission annex building, which was a distance away from the main building.
It took two attempts before American security officials were able to regain control of the consulate at 11:20 p.m., and they evacuated the staff from all of the buildings to the annex.
However, by midnight, the U.S. official said on Wednesday, a second assault began as the annex started taking fire. Libya’s al-Sharif said on Wednesday that a separate group was involved in that firefight. It lasted for more than two hours. Two more personnel were killed in that battle and two were wounded.
By 2:30 a.m., nearly five hours after the assault had begun, Libyan security forces helped to regain control of the site.
The State Department said that some time between 10:15 p.m. and 11:20 p.m., Stevens left the main building and went to the hospital. Clinton said he was taken there by Libyans.
Stevens was not seen by his colleagues until his body was brought later that evening to the Benghazi airport, where all U.S. personnel were taken for a flight to Tripoli.
The U.S. official said that all U.S. staff had now been sent to Europe and the wounded are being treated in Germany.
The two other Americans also died during the incident but had not yet been publicly identified, officials said. U.S. officials are still making next of kin notifications.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Steve Almasy, CNN
Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN