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“It was a beautiful day,” said Chris, a retired U.S. soldier, who took refuge at an American Embassy annex in Benghazi on June 19. “It was the morning of September 11, and the embassy was overrun.”
On Wednesday morning, the last day of the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was scheduled to open. The day before, an Islamic revolution flag was waved inside the compound by fighters in military uniform who had stormed the premises.
A Libyan army general, the self-appointed emir of Benghazi city, has declared the mission a “military operation,” while NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has stated that the ambassador’s life was in “great danger.” Yet the mission was to end, and the American diplomats were to get out.
At around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, a few hours into the diplomatic mission, a crowd of at least six dozen fighters, many wearing military uniforms, arrived at the embassy to take over. In an instant, the building seemed to transform into a battleground, as men on motorbikes began firing at the embassy walls.
“Everybody was very much on edge,” said a Libyan official familiar with the events. The crowd grew so large that some of the embassy staff scrambled into a building nearby and closed all but two doors to keep it from getting even larger.
As a crowd of heavily armed fighters forced its way into the building from both the front and back, a crowd of diplomats rushed to the walls, taking cover behind the two pillars that stood in the path of the assault, where they could hear the gunfire. A U.S. security officer was lying on a concrete wall, bleeding from the injuries he sustained as he tried to help the ambassador.
On the third floor of the building, a Libyan security guard shot to death a gunman who had attempted to run out the door, a former U.S. diplomat recalled.
After a few hours, the attackers were subdued, and the American citizens evacuated safely on a chartered commercial plane. As it landed, American officials told the Libyan government that seven consulate staffers were still being held hostage, and the Libyan government promised to allow American diplomats to leave. That promise was
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