NEW YORK – An eyewitness to the attack at the main U.S. compound in Benghazi interviewed exclusively by WND from Libya via Skype confirmed the report released Wednesday by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that concluded the Obama administration misled the American public by maintaining the incident was not related to terrorism.
Speaking from Libya, Ahmed Salem, a young political activist opposed to radical Islamic terrorism who witnessed the Benghazi attack, told WND that al-Qaida and other radical Islamic militia groups, including some from Egypt, launched a pre-planned, well-organized, heavily armed attack on the U.S. compound.
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“It began shortly after 9 p.m. at night in Libya, and at first it was designed to look like a protest made up of extremists," said Salem, who noted that he lives near the compound.
"But the idea this was a protest over the movie was completely a pretext. This is the way of al-Qaida," Salem explained.
He said that many times during the civil war to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Islamic rebels began attacks on military compounds with what at first looked like a protest.
"But the so-called ‘protestors’ had guns on them," he said. "The attackers on the Benghazi compound were extremists. I could tell because of their beards and the outfits, and they were heavily armed."
He said "there was no way this was a civilian protest."
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"When they got near the compound, the attackers began firing with the AK-47s they brought with them concealed from view," Salem said.
He argued the attack on the Benghazi compound was well planned. He said he did not witness the subsequent attack on the CIA annex.
“When the attack began, Islamic militia set up check-points all over Benghazi, to block the roads, so even people who lived there could not get to their homes," he said. "All over the neighborhood of the consulate the checkpoints stopped anyone from coming into the compound area.”
He detailed that the organization and planning included creating checkpoints around the U.S. compound during the attack.
“I saw one of the people who lived near the U.S. compound in Benghazi who was trying to photograph what was happening with his cell phone," he said. "The militia beat him up and took his cell phone away from him.
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"No one in their right mind can say the attack on the Benghazi compound was spontaneous," he insisted. "Covering that neighborhood with those checkpoints took advance planning. The whole neighborhood was surrounded – checkpoints, heavy weapons, everybody stopped – the militia looked like the government or the police in your country shutting off an area systematically.”
Salem described how the Benghazi attack began.
“They started to march and they were protesting about the movie about Prophet Muhammad and they started shooting. When they started shooting, the Libyan guards hired by the U.S. to protect the compound returned fire,” he said.
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Salem recounted how most of the Americans in the compound escaped.
“After the first wave of the attack, the so-called ‘protestors’ retreated, and that’s when the heavy guns appeared, about a half-an-hour later," he said.
But there is very important information here,” he emphasized. “Then after the first clash between the so-called ‘protestors’ and the Libyan guards, two land cruisers evacuated the U.S. compound with U.S. personnel aboard. I saw them leaving the compound with my own eyes. At first I thought the U.S. personnel at the compound got out.”
Salem said that at first, the Islamic fighters attacking the compound did not realize Ambassador Christopher Stevens was there.
“They thought it was impossible, because if Stevens was there, the Americans would have gotten Stevens out in one of the Land Cruisers," he said.
"But they left Stevens there. I don’t know why, but maybe they intentionally left him there. The reason is not clear to me. The U.S. personnel leaving in the Land Cruisers had a clear way out. It was a surprise to us all that Ambassador Stevens was there in the compound. The attack was on 9/11 and Benghazi is not exactly the safest place to be.”
Foreign Islamic radicals attack
Salem said it took about an hour for the Islamic radicals to start entering the U.S. compound and begin looting and burning the buildings.
“I can’t say for sure how many of the attackers were al-Qaida,” he said. “But I am positive there were members of Ansar al-Sharia there. Ansar al-Sharia are all Libyans."
He said he also heard an Egyptian accent among the fighters from many different countries who were attacking the U.S. compound.
"Even the names the attackers were using are thousand-year-old names that are used in other Islamic countries, but not in Libya. The old Islamic names are used, for instance, in Afghanistan where the Taliban want to initiate the age of the prophet in this age," he said. "I could also tell there were foreigners among the attackers because the outfits they were wearing were not the traditional Libyan outfits.”
He noted that in the second phase of the attack, the terrorists were shooting bazookas toward the U.S. compound.
“I feared from the heavy firing gun fire and bazookas that I was going to be dead,” Salem said. “But the attackers were surprisingly nice to me. The attackers gave the impression they were after Americans, not Libyans. But this was not the case. The attackers fired at the Libyan guards at the gate with the intention of killing them.”
After the guards ran away, the Islamic fighters overran the compound.
“Within two hours, the attackers began infiltrating the compound and extracting things – computers, weapons," he said. "I saw a bunch of M-16s they took – a suitcase and a vault that they put in a pick-up truck and drove away. The attackers burning the compound were trying to level the compound to the ground. Starting with the second phase of the attack, there was no American resistance at all.”
The Libyan 17th of February Brigade
Salem stressed the suspicious nature of the Libyan guards.
“The Libyan guards were shooting at the attackers, but they didn’t stand and fight,” he said. They ran away."
Salem pointed out that the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli contracted with the 17th of February Brigade to provide the Libyan guards at the U.S. compound in Benghazi.
"The 17th of February Brigade is composed of rebel militia that organized originally to attack Qadhafi," he said. "These same militia groups organized under the 17th of February Brigade were the main attackers against Benghazi compound. That is the irony."
He explained that Ansar al-Sharia is a small but very radical extremist military group – the "zero combat guys" or the “SWAT team” within the 17th of February Brigade.
"The top group involved in organizing the Benghazi attack was definitely the 17th of February Brigade," he said.
Salem said it was between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., after the looters were in the compound, when the attackers realized Stevens was in the compound after all.
“The looters were from various radical Islamic militia groups. They took everything, even the potatoes and vegetables out of the kitchen," he said.
Militia members entering the compound found Stevens lying dead in the burned-out wreckage of the compound," said Salem.
"I did not know the person they found was Stevens, but I saw them abusing the body by beating it, unfortunately," he said. "When the looters realized Stevens was dead, they carried his body out and took him to the general hospital. The fact that Stevens was killed in the attack was not made public in Libya until the next morning.”
Salem emphasized how unsafe the U.S. compound was in Benghazi.
“Especially after the movie, and because it was the anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we thought Ambassador Stevens would have been in Tripoli," he said. "The U.S. compound in Benghazi was not safe. It is surrounded by farms; it’s not a place where an ambassador could stay under these circumstances.
He said that on the evening of the attack, he didn't see any extra security measures.
Salem said it took three days after the attack before any government officials came to search and secure the U.S. compound.
“In the three days immediately after the attack, the U.S. compound was completely open and unprotected," he said. "You could come in and search the wreckage. Anyone could come in, see everything, take photographs, and leave – it was this easy."
He noted there were other Arabs who worked at the U.S. compound who were hurt and some were killed in the attack.
"The employees included Libyans, one from Sudan – a cook, I believe – and others who were working in the compound," he said. "The only ones who managed to escape were the Libyan guards and the two Land Rovers of U.S. personnel who got away during the attack.”
He described the attack as “beyond chaotic,” but he noted that not a single one of the attackers was killed or even hurt.
“Even the Libyan guards were shooting so as not to kill anyone,” he said. “The Libyan guards knew that if they killed even a single attacker, the other attackers would not tolerate this. The force of the attack overwhelmed the Americans quickly. It was not exactly like a fair fight. It was like an elephant versus a bird.”
Call for select committee
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the author of legislation to create a House Select Committee on Benghazi, released a statement Wednesday following the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Benghazi.
Wolf said: “Perhaps the most telling part of the report is in the ‘additional views’ section, which points out that ‘important questions remain unanswered as a direct result of the Obama Administration’s failure to provide the committee with access to necessary documents and witnesses.’ This is unacceptable.”
Wolf noted the report also failed to broach the subject of what the CIA was doing in Benghazi.
“We are never going to get all the answers to what happened that night until there is a House Select Committee that can reach across jurisdictional boundaries, compel testimony and documents that the administration continues to withhold from the Congress and protect those who may want to testify about the events of that evening,” he said.
“I also remain deeply troubled that no one has been held accountable for what happened that night. I have spoken with family members of those killed and they have made it clear that accountability is what they want most.”
WND reported the personal belongings of Ambassador Stevens, including his camera, cell phone, identification papers and various private documents, are being kept locked in a safe in the possession of Bin Hameed in Libya; Bin Hameed has been identified as an Islamic extremist in Benghazi who allegedly participated in the attack.
WND further reported concerns the State Department hired armed militia of the 17th of February Brigade to provide external security to protect the doomed Benghazi U.S. compound. The Brigade included the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Al-Sharia, a group that advocates the strict implementation of Islamic law in Libya and elsewhere, and took credit for previous attacks against other diplomatic posts in Benghazi.