BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - An amateur video appears to show Libyans trying to rescue U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens from a room filled with smoke at the U.S. mission where he was found unconscious after last week’s attack by a mob protesting against a film that denigrates the Prophet Mohammad.
The video, which appeared on the internet and a copy of which was obtained by Reuters in Benghazi, confirms reports that suggested the U.S. envoy died of asphyxiation after the building caught fire.
The footage also sheds new light on the circumstances of the ambassador’s death, apparently showing for the first time that some of the people who forced their way into the U.S. compound later tried to rescue Stevens after they found him lying alone, with no security detail, in one of the rooms in the building.
The video shows a group of young men who had earlier stormed the compound telling other protesters by the light of torches and mobile phones that they had found someone who appeared to be a foreigner lying on the floor.
“There is someone inside ... He is a foreigner, he is a foreigner. Take him out,” said one man, shouting for help.
“Bring him out, man! Bring him out,” another said.
“The man is alive. Bring him out, man. Bring him out,” said a third.
“Alive, Alive! God is Greatest,” the crowd cried. Someone called for a car.
“Make space, is there someone who is a medic around? Anyone who can get a car quickly?” another man can be heard saying.
Stevens and three other embassy staff died when gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate and a safe house in the eastern Libyan city on Tuesday night. The attackers were part of a crowd blaming America for a film they said insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
Security personnel were separated from Stevens during the attack, U.S. officials said, in the chaos of smoke and gunfire that ensued.
The identity and motive of the attackers remain unclear. Activists who took part in the protest said the motive was rage at the video produced in California and which describes the Prophet as a homosexual and womaniser.
Some Libyan officials blamed the attack on radical Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda, such as regional affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Sharia. Both groups back the introduction of Islamic Sharia law rather than democracy.
The footage shows Stevens lying on the floor in a smoke-filled room after protesters had stormed the compound and set fire to its buildings.
Minutes later he was pulled out of the room through a window, and then placed on the courtyard’s stone tile floor. A young man is seen putting his hand on his neck to check if he was breathing.
A protester wearing a white T-shirt who had carried Stevens out of the room was hugged by a fellow protestor in a traditional expression of gratitude.
Seconds after the protesters found Stevens was alive, a young man in the background can be heard shouting: “Take him to my car, bring him to my car.”
A doctor on duty in the emergency room at the Benghazi Medical Centre that night has said local civilians brought in the ambassador at around 1 a.m. While the doctor performed CPR for 45 minutes, Stevens died of asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation. His body was later returned to U.S. custody.
“ON HIS OWN”
Fahd Al-Bakoush, a young activist who took the video, said he saw the ambassador “moving his lips and his eyes moving and his body darkened by smoke.”
Bakoush told Reuters the storming of the embassy happened shortly after several armed Libyan guards at the entrance refused protesters’ demands to enter the compound and take down the U.S. flag.
He said the violence began after shots fired from the compound to scare demonstrators provoked angry protesters outside, prompting hardline elements within the protesters to throw home made grenades and fire RPGs.
Shortly afterwards, nearly 100 mainly Islamist protesters broke into the large compound with little resistance from embassy security. The intruders were then free to rampage through the large complex in the affluent Al-Hawari neighbourhood.
Bakoush said he only realised the next day that it was the ambassador who had been found and was surprised that he was left on his own in the villa with none of his aides.
“I did not expect the ambassador to be on his own and I had thought the ambassador had been the first to escape,” he said.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said in a statement that Tuesday’s assault was partly motivated by the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan al Qaeda leader in Pakistan killed in a U.S. drone strike.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama said last week that officials had no evidence the attack was pre-planned, an assertion which has added to confusion over the incident. Immediately after the attack, U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, were widely quoted as saying they believed the attack was well-planned and organised.
Additional reporting by Omar Al-Mosmari and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Giles Elgood