Timeline: What Happened in Libya and How the U.S. Reacted

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Esam Al-Fetori / Reuters

An interior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen in Benghazi on Sept. 12, 2012.

Over the course of 48 hours this week, protests in Egypt and Libya rattled American diplomats, foreign policy took over the presidential race, and a U.S. ambassador was killed. What follows is an account of how it happened. All times are approximate and in Eastern Standard Time.

6:00 a.m. A day after Islamists in Egypt urge Sept. 11 protests in response to a 13-minute YouTube video that contains crude depictions of the prophet Mohammed, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo releases a statement: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

1:05 p.m. A State Department official tells reporters that protesters have breached the walls of the Cairo Embassy and replaced the American flag. The protests continue for several hours.

2:00 p.m. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivers a speech to the National Guard Association in Reno, Nev. He says he feels it would be inappropriate to criticize President Obama on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

3:30 p.m. Protesters begin marching to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

4:00 p.m. The consulate is attacked by “unidentified Libyan extremists,” according to a senior administration official.

4:15 p.m. The attackers gain access to the compound’s main building, setting it ablaze with Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and a regional security officer inside. The security official escapes and returns with others to search for Stevens and Smith, which proves difficult amid thick smoke. They find only Smith’s body.

4:45 p.m.  U.S. security personnel try to retake the main building. They retreat under heavy fire.

5:20 p.m. U.S. and Libyan security personnel secure the consulate’s main building and evacuate surviving staff, approximately 25 to 30 people, to a compound annex. Stevens is missing.

6:00 p.m. The annex comes under fire for two hours, leaving two State Department staffers dead and wounding two others. Back in the U.S., President Obama has been briefed on the situation and receives updates throughout the night.

8:30 p.m. Control of the Benghazi consulate is restored. U.S. news outlets have reported that at least one American is dead.

10:25 p.m. Romney’s campaign issues a statement on behalf of its candidate: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” it says in reference to the Cairo Embassy statement.

11:00 p.m. The White House tells ABC News that “no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn’t reflect the views of the U.S. Government.” According to a senior Administration official, four Americans have been confirmed killed and three more are wounded.

12:30 a.m. Stevens’ body is recovered at Benghazi airport as dawn breaks in Libya. U.S. officials do not know how he got there, but reports suggest he was carried first to a hospital, then to the airport, by sympathetic Libyans.

7:20 a.m. Obama has learned that Stevens and three other State Department officials are dead. He issues a statement “strongly” condemning the “outrageous attack.”

10:00 a.m. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the White House: “We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence.”

10:20 a.m. Romney addresses reporters in Jacksonville, Fla. He says Obama’s foreign policy undermines “America’s values,” sends “mixed signals” and “the Administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.”

10:43 a.m. Obama makes a statement at the White House. “The U.S. has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he says. “But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.” He does not mention Romney.