US officials say frantic search failed to find killed ambassador in Benghazi
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US State Department officials on Tuesday offered their most detailed description yet of the dramatic events in Benghazi that led to the death of a US ambassador, but they backed away from earlier assertions that the events were triggered by protests against an anti-Islam video.
The officials were briefing reporters on the eve of a congressional hearing into on the attack last month, which is expected to focus on security missteps by the department.
They described frantic and prolonged efforts to rescue Ambassador Christopher Stevens from a smoke-filled safe haven inside the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi where he apparently died of asphyxiation.
Stevens' death and confusion over the attack has become the subject of fierce partisan debate in Washington in the final weeks before the US presidential election on November 6.
The State Department officials said agents crawled on their hands and knees through thick diesel smoke to try to find the missing envoy, who somehow was transported out of the compound to a local hospital.
The US government learned where he was after someone called numbers in his cell phone, the officials said.
We do not know exactly how the ambassador got to the hospital. That is one of the issues that we hope to resolve in the ongoing reviews, and the information we are still seeking, one official said.
The officials also said there was nothing unusual around the Benghazi mission before the assault. Earlier accounts by White House and State Department officials, including US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, suggested that the attacks were triggered by protests over an anti-Muslim video made in California that insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
Focus on diplomatic security
Officials of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security will testify at a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday and one key subject of the inquiry will be whether the State Department rejected requests from diplomats to increase security at the Libya mission after months of violent incidents.
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