Libyans tried to rescue Ambassador Chris Stevens, cheering “God is great” and rushing him to a hospital after they discovered him still clinging to life inside the US Consulate, according to witnesses and a new video that emerged from last week’s attack in the city of Benghazi.
The group of Libyans had stumbled across Stevens’ seemingly lifeless from inside a dark room and didn’t know who he was, only that he was a foreigner, the man who shot the video and two other witnesses told The Associated Press.
The account underlines the confusion that reigned during the assault by protesters and heavily armed gunmen that overwhelmed the consulate in Benghazi last week, killing four Americans, including Stevens, who died from smoke inhalation soon after he was found. US officials are still trying to piece together how the top American diplomat in Libya got separated from others as staffers were evacuated, suffocating in what is believed to be a consulate safe-room.
The Libyans who found him expressed frustration that there was no ambulance and no first aid on hand, leaving him to be slung over a man’s shoulder to be carried to a car.
“There was not a single ambulance to carry him. Maybe he was handled the wrong way,” said Fahd al-Bakoush, a freelance videographer who shot the footage. “They took him to a private car.”
Soon after the attack, Libyan civilians roamed freely around the trashed consulate, its walls blacked and furniture burned. Among them were the videographer al-Bakoush, and a photographer and art student he often works with.
They heard a panicked shout, “I stepped over a dead man,” and rushed to see what was going on, al-Bakoush said. The body had been found inside a dark room with a locked door accessible only by a window. A group of men pulled him out and realized he was a foreigner and still alive.
He was breathing and his eyelids flickered, al-Bakoush said. “He was alive,” he said. “No doubt. His face was blackened and he was like a paralysed person.”
Video taken by al-Bakoush and posted on YouTube shows Stevens being carried out of the room through a window with a raised shutter. “Bring him out, man,” someone shouts. “Out of the way, out of the way!” (The video can also be seen by clicking here.)
“Alive, Alive!” come other shouts, then a cheer of “God is great.”
The next scene shows Stevens lying on a tile floor, with one man touching his neck to check his pulse. Al-Bakoush said that after that scene, they put Stevens in a private car to rush to the hospital.
The video has been authenticated since Stevens’ face is clearly visible and he is wearing the same white t-shirt seen in authenticated photos of him being carried away on another man’s shoulders, presumably moments later. The photographer and student who were with al-Bakoush at the scene gave the same account as he did.
“We were happy to see him alive. The youths tried to rescue him. But there was no security, no ambulances, nothing to help,” said Ahmed Shams, the 22-year-old arts student.
When they entered the consulate, “there was no one around. There was no fire fighters, no ambulances, no relief,” said the photographer, Abdel-Qader Fadl.
The accounts of all three witnesses mesh with that of the doctor who treated Stevens that night.
Dr. Ziad Abu Zeid told The Associated Press last week that Stevens was nearly lifeless when he was brought by Libyans, with no other Americans around, to the Benghazi hospital where he worked. He said Stevens had severe asphyxia from the smoke and that he tried for 90 minutes to resuscitate him with no success. Only later did security officials confirm it was Stevens.
Fadl said he drove to the hospital behind the car carrying Stevens.
Al-Bakoush and his colleagues said that once they learned his identity, they were stunned Stevens had been alone.
“I’ve never seen incompetence and negligence like this, from the two sides, the Americans and the Libyans,” he said. “You can sacrifice everyone but rescue the ambassador. He is the ambassador for God’s sake.”