(CBS News) It was six weeks ago on Tuesday that terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, CBS News has obtained email alerts that were put out by the State Department as the attack unfolded. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
These emails contain the earliest description so far of what happened at Benghazi the night of the attack.
At 4:05 p.m. Eastern time, on September 11, an alert from the State Department Operations Center was issued to a number government and intelligence agencies. Included were the White House Situation Room, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FBI.
“US Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack” — “approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM (Chief of Mission/embassy) personnel are in the compound safe haven.”
At 4:54 p.m., less than an hour later, another alert: “the firing… in Benghazi…has stopped…A response team is on site attempting to locate COM (embassy) personnel.”
Then, at 6:07 p.m., State sent out another alert saying the embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibilty for Benghazi Attack”… “on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
The emails are just a few in what are likely a large number traded throughout the night. They are likely to become part of the ongoing political debate over whether the administration attempted to mislead in saying the assault was an outgrowth of a protest, rather than a planned attack by terrorists.
Fourteen hours after the attack, President Obama sat down with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” for a previously scheduled interview and said he did not believe it was simply due to mob violence.
“You’re right that this is not a situation that was — exactly the same as what happened in Egypt and my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start,” Mr. Obama said.
The White House and State Department declined comment on the email alerts. The House Oversight Committee told CBS News the information in the emails will be part of their ongoing investigation into the Benghazi attack.