BENGHAZI—Libyans tried to save US Ambassador Chris Stevens after finding him in a locked, smoke-filled room following last week’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, according to amateur video footage obtained on Tuesday by AFP.
“Is there a doctor around? Does anyone know a doctor,” a young man, among a crowd of people gathered around a body believed to be Stevens, is heard saying in the video footage.
Another person is seen checking the pulse of the victim.
In another scene, protesters are shown dragging a body out of a window and then placing it on the ground outside a building that has been burned by flames.
One of the protesters is heard saying “he is dead,” while others shout “he is alive, he is alive. Get him out of here,” followed by shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).
Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 11 when the US consulate in Benghazi came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades during a protest against an anti-Islam film made in America.
On Monday a US State Department official refused to call the attack “an act of terror,” saying a full investigation had to be completed first.
US and Libyan officials have offered widely differing accounts of the assault, which coincided with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, echoing earlier accounts of the attack from the State Department, said Sunday it began with a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic video.
But Libya’s parliament chief, Mohammed al-Megaryef, blamed the attack on a few foreign extremists who he said entered Libya from Mali and Algeria and pre-planned it with local “affiliates and sympathisers.”
Fahid al-Bakush, who shot the video and shared it with AFP, said he and his friends arrived at the scene at around 12:15 am (2215 GMT September 10) after hearing there was an attack on the consulate.
“There were people defending the consulate and others trying to loot it,” Bakush told AFP displaying images on his laptop of the crowd gathered at the burning premises.
Ahmed al-Faraj, a local journalist also at the scene, said that some men had pried open the gated balcony window and stumbled on the body inside.
“The ambassador was found by accident, when someone trod on him.”
“The people didn’t know he was the ambassador, only that he was an American trapped in the room,” he said.
‘He was breathing’
In the video, a voice is heard saying: “There is a dead man inside.”
Moments later a small group men, carrying flashlights, is seen taking the body out of the building.
“He is foreign,” one person is heard saying.
Edited clips of the video have circulated on YouTube sparking debates as to whether shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were uttered to celebrate the death of a foreigner or to express relief that the man was still alive.
But Bakush and his friends have no doubt that the crowd, who pulled out the ambassador from the blazing consulate, were trying to help and had no knowledge of his identity.
“People tried to clear space so he could breathe and his eyes flickered,” Ahmed Shamsi, who witnessed those dramatic moments, told AFP.
“He was breathing,” insisted Abdelqader Fadel who edited the video and uploaded it online.
One picture provided by Bakush and his friends shows a man carrying the wounded American over his shoulder and heading towards a civilian car, in what they said was clear evidence they were trying to rush him to hospital to save him.
Ahmed Warfalli, who lives just a few doors down from the consulate, told AFP that police reinforcements arrived only two hours after gun and rocket fire shook the area.
“They set off TNT, threw grenades and fired rockets,” he said of the demonstrators.
Seif Eddin Zoghbia was the general surgeon on duty at the Benghazi Medical Center when the ambassador was rushed in by strangers five hours later.
“At about 1 am, people bring in a patient who looked like a burn victim,” he recalled.
“They were panicked. They wanted to save him at any cost. I came and checked his pulse but there was no pulse,” added Zoghbia.
For the next half hour, doctors and nurses tried to revive the body to no avail, said Zoghbia, adding that the ambassador died of asphyxiation and that there were no signs of trauma on his body.
“At first I didn’t know he was ambassador, or American,” the medic said.