By Andrew Quinn and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Security personnel were separated from the U.S. ambassador to Libya during the attack in which he was killed, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, describing a chaotic scene of smoke, gunfire and confusion as the American consulate in Benghazi came under assault.

The officials said the attack began at roughly 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday, with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith and one security officer trapped under fire in the burning consulate building.

"They became separated from each other due to the heavy dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building," one senior official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity and stressed that it was a preliminary version of events.

The security officer made it outside, and returned with help to search for the missing U.S. diplomatic personnel.

"At that time, they found Sean. He was already dead. And they pulled him from the building. They were unable, however, to locate Chris (Stevens), before they were driven from the building, due to the heavy fire and smoke and the continuing small arms fire," the official said.

During the next several hours, U.S. and Libyan security forces exchanged repeated gunfire with the attackers, whom they identified as Libyan extremists.

The description of events at the consulate, while preliminary, appeared to raise questions about security preparations and procedures.

A second U.S. official said there were no U.S. military personnel at the mission in Benghazi at the time of the attack.


Questioned about the consulate's security, the officials said the consulate compound was guarded by both Libyan security and a "robust" force of U.S. security officers, and that a regular security review before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had recently been completed.

"And at that point, there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured," the first U.S. official said.

U.S. and Libyan security forces eventually were able to secure the consulate complex, and shepherd several dozen consular staff to a nearby safe haven. But the fate of the 52-year-old ambassador remained unclear.

"At some point in all of this, and frankly we do not know when, we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information on what his condition was at that time," the first official said.

Stevens' body was later returned to U.S. custody at Benghazi airport, where it was evacuated along with the rest of the personnel to Tripoli, the U.S. official said.

Two other embassy personnel were also killed in the attack, but have not been identified pending notification of their families, the official said. Three more people were wounded.


BENGHAZI EVACUATED

The official was unable to confirm media reports that unidentified Libyans had found Stevens and brought him to the hospital.

"Obviously he had to get there somehow. No Americans were responsible for that. But again I'm not in a position to confirm, because we frankly don't know," the official said.

The official declined to discuss specifics of Stevens' security detail, but defended their efforts.

"I think in the accounting that I gave I made clear that security personnel were endeavoring to get him out of the building when they got separated by the incredibly thick smoke and fire," the official said.

"They then turned right back around, got more help and went right back to look for him. So this was realty quite a heroic effort."

Following the attack, the United States evacuated all its personnel from Benghazi to the Libyan capital and has reduced the staff at its embassy in Tripoli to unspecified "emergency" levels, the official said.

In response to the crisis, the Pentagon dispatched a team of about 50 members of the Marine fleet anti-terrorist security team, who were on the ground at the embassy in Tripoli.

The first official said that in addition to official Libyan security, a local militia friendly to U.S. interests had also joined the effort to defend the consulate.

The officials declined to speculate on whether al Qaeda might be involved, saying evidence from the attack was still under review.

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Egypt's Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told CNN that some people involved in the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were paid to protest. He also said that some were there on their own accord, though.

For more on his comments, click here.

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Both Libyans and "foreigners" carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, said Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf.

"We have assumptions and we have some information, and all that information we have now leads to the same direction about the perpetrators, the criminals," he told NBC.

For more on Magariaf's comments, click here.

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A local security official walked CNN through the horrific attacks in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead. Read the report here.

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@ JomanaCNN : One senior official just told me they have no evidence yet to support President's statements that attack was pre-planned. #Libya

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From the AP:

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from posts in Sudan and Tunisia and is issuing travel warnings to American citizens in the two countries due to security concerns over anti-American violence.

"Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the State Department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens," said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.

To read more, click here.

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anti islam film

In this image from video provided by CBS2-KCAL9, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Cerritos, Calif. Nakoula, 55, was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. (AP Photo/CBS2-KCAL9)

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camp bastion

This image from AP video obtained from the SITE Intel Group posted by al-Emarah Jihadi Studio, an Afghan Taliban media unit who released two clips on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what the Taliban media unit says is an attack at the base. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group)

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According to an AFP report, a far-right group in Germany wants to screen 'Innocence of Muslims,' the film that sparked protests around the world, in Berlin.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel he would use every legal means at his disposal to stop them.

“Such groups and organizations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” he said, accusing them of recklessly pouring oil on the fire.

Read the full story here.

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libya attack

President Mohammed el-Megarif, fourth right, meets an unidentified Libyan guard of the U.S. Consulate who was wounded following the deadly attack on September 11, 2012, at Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo)

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Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority on Saturday condemned the attacks on U.S. embassies as un-Islamic, according to a report by Reuters.

"It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction," he said in a speech carried by state news agency SPA.

Read the full report here.

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@ AliTweel : 64 pictures from 12/09/2012 demonstration in #Tripoli against violence and condemnation of US consulate attack https://t.co/Q2CY4FFF #Libya

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Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore urged Muslims to refrain from violence on Saturday. From the AP:

Compaore, who is a convert to Islam, said that violence should not be the response of Muslims to provocations, even from the maker of the film of the Prophet Muhammad. Compaore described the filmmaker as a “brainless man who thinks he has the right to despise the religious feelings of others.”

Compaore deplored the street violence of recent days, saying the “credibility and greatness” of Islam is not through violence.

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"There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates. So long as I am commander-in-chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans."

Watch Obama's full remarks here:

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KHARTOUM, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Sudan has rejected a U.S. request to send a platoon of Marines to bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, the state news agency SUNA said on Saturday.

On Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would send Marines to Sudan to improve security at the embassy after protesters entered the mission in a demonstration against a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

"Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps," Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told SUNA. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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@ latimes : People linked to 'Innocence of Muslims' receive death threats, consultant says http://t.co/gSdQXFDp

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afghanistan protest

Afghans burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in Khost, south-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. A few hundred university students protested against an anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, shouting "death to America." (AP Photo/Nashanuddin Khan)

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From Reuters:

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack on a base which U.S. officials said killed two American Marines, saying it was in response to a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

Camp Bastion, in southern Helmand province, came under mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire late on Friday in an attack in which several servicemen were wounded.

"The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney on Saturday as demonstrations against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States spread to Australia.

Ten Network television news showed a policeman knocked unconscious as the mostly male crowd hurled bottles and other missiles. Many of the protesters were wearing Muslim dress.

Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we love Osama" and waved placards saying "Behead all those who insult the Prophet."

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party condemned an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the neighboring American school, saying such violence threatens the country's progress toward democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources.

The CIA has fewer people available to send, stretched thin from tracking conflicts across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Pope Benedict XVI appealed Saturday for religious freedom in the Middle East, calling it fundamental for stability in a region bloodied by sectarian strife.

Benedict spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. He arrived amid a wave of violent demonstrations over an anti-Islam film across the Muslim world.

"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the president palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Read the whole story here.

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From Reuters:

Clashes near the U.S. Embassy in central Cairo between police and Egyptians incensed over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad entered their fourth day early on Saturday, leaving one protester dead and dozens more injured.

The clashes moved to a main road on the banks of the Nile after authorities closed the street leading to the embassy. The protesters, many of whom are intent upon breaking into the embassy, now are seeking alternative routes to the site.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation".

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

A U.S. official says an elite Marine rapid response team is headed to Sudan in the wake of violence and protests against the embassy in Khartoum.

The deployment comes as Sudanese police opened fire on protesters trying to climb the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

Read the full story here.

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A 35-year-old protester was killed in the Egyptian capital on Friday as hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy clashed with police.

Read the full story here.

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U.S. officials say 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is being investigated for probation violations.

"A source with knowledge of the case confirmed that the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the film for violations of the terms of his release."

Read the full story here.

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AP video shows a group gathering to protest the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya:

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@ Reuters : Google rejects White House request to pull Mohammad film clip http://t.co/yi0s0288

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@ AP : BREAKING: US official says 2 Marines killed in attack on NATO base in Afghanistan

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"The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob," Clinton said on Friday at a ceremony for the Americans slain in Libya.

arab protests clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accompanied by President Barack Obama, speaks during a Transfer of Remains Ceremony, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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