‘Innocence of Muslims’ Not a Factor in Ambassador’s Death?

State Department account of deadly assault downplays anti-Muslim propaganda film "Innocence of Muslims"

A moment-by-moment account of the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others didn't indicate that the propaganda film "The Innocence of Muslims" was a significant factor in the assault.

State Department officals spoke to reporters Tuesday, on the eve of department officials testifying to Congress about the attack in Benghazi. Rioting over the "Muslims" film was widely blamed for a role in Stevens' killing. But the officials did not blame it for the assault that killed Stevens and three others, which coincided with the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. 

On Sept. 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the video "appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage." She didn't directly blame it for Stevens' death.

With Tuesday's briefing, it remains unclear whether the men who killed Stevens and three other Americans were motivated by the video, which portrays the Muslim Prophet Muhammad as a gay, philandering pedophile. They may have simply used the protests outside the embassy as a distraction.

News outlets including The Associated Press provided a detailed breakdown of the attack that killed Stevens. As The AP noted, "The account answers some questions and leaves others unanswered. Chief among them is why for several days the Obama administration said the assault stemmed from a protest against an American-made Internet video ridiculing Islam, and whether the consulate had adequate security."

Part of the problem is sorting out whether the people protesting the video and people who killed Stevens were the same people. At the time of the attack on the Libyan embassy, The New York Times interviewed men it said were "fighters involved in the assault." They said they were "moved to attack the mission by anger over" the video.

State Department officials provided their account of the embassy attack on condition of anonymity. They told the AP that Stevens was holding all meetings inside the compound because of the increased security threat of the 9/11 anniversary.

At 9:40 p.m., people inside the compound heard explosions, gunshots, and other noises at the gate. They called Washington and local officials for help, and tried to find safety. But their attackers broke down a gate and set Stevens' building on fire. He became separated from the U.S. agents trying to protect him, according to the department's account.

Although they searched through smoke on their hands and knees for Stevens and other missing Americans, they couldn't find them. With reinforcements from Libyan authorities, the Americans tried to hold the compound but were forced to flee. It took hours from them to escape as they were attacked with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

They finally fled the city by plane.