Behind the Scenes as Angry Mob Attacks an Embassy and Host Country Takes Power Nap

So it’s been a month since the latest rounds of protests in the Middle East broke.  One of my favorite bloggers, 4G of Four Globetrotters who was in one of the embassies attacked finally came back online this week. Hers is a harrowing tale shared by many more public servants and family members spread across the globe. Here is an excerpt from her post, “Attack” (used with permission):

1430:  Police use tear gas to try to disperse crowds.  Protesters have now surrounded the Embassy on all sides.  Security forces were only set up on one side.  This is bad.  Over the radio we hear reports coming in. They’re on the walls.

1500 – ?:  All employees are ordered to the safe haven.  Everyone dutifully files in, deposits their cell phones since the safe haven is a phone-free zone.  Reports continue to come in.  The motor pool is on fire.  The rec center is on fire.  The employee parking lot is on fire.  Protesters are on the roof of the Chancery.  We immediately begin to do what we know to do.  Destroy classified.  I hear the sound of sledge hammers pounding away, comforted to know that my colleagues are destroying the classified material.  The sound of the hammers echo through the Embassy, making the walls vibrate.  Find out that sound isn’t coming from within.  The protesters are at our windows and are intent on getting in.  They are attempting to set fire to the Chancery, dousing the building with gasoline and setting it on fire.  My mind flashes back to the images from Benghazi, just a few days prior.  I visualize the caskets of my dead colleagues on board the C-130 in Tripoli.

A faint smell of smoke begins to waft through the safe haven, where I’m sitting with 103 of my colleagues, some of whom are panicking and crying.  I’m trying very hard to project calm and confidence.  The fire alarm goes off.  Someone decides to go get everyone’s cell phones so we can start calling our loved ones.  I sent three quick emails from my blackberry — to my ex-husband:  “In safehaven.  People are on the compound, on roof.  Tell the kids I love them so much. If the worst happens don’t let them forget me.”, one to my parents and my sisters, and one to my very special person.  I’m worried sick about my motor pool team, stuck in an outside building.

1630:  I decide to leave the safe haven and along with a friend from A-100 start up a task force in the Front Office, set up a log and let the training kick in.  Keeping busy helps.  Repeated phone calls with Washington, host government officials, the White House, the Secretary.  On the TV we see the President and the Secretary at Dover Air Force base receiving the caskets of our colleagues.  Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.  It’s evident that the host government cannot or will not protect our Embassy.

1730?:  My motor pool team makes its way into the Chancery.  They’re covered in soot, traumatized and out of breath.  They report that the protesters attempted to set the gas pump on fire but failed because we had turned it off that morning.  The motor pool team reports that they chose to leave the safety of their building and try to save whatever vehicles they could, confronting protesters along the way.  Rather than saving their own cars they hopped into any official vehicle they could find that wasn’t on fire and drove through protesters to get the vehicles off the compound and into a safe area.  Were it not for that we would have lost our entire motor pool.

Saturday, September 15:  I get to see the damage for the first time in the light of day.  It breaks my heart, but motivates me like you wouldn’t believe.  First order of business, get the flag back up.

Via US Embassy FB


Isn’t this something you just loooong to read in State’s DipNote? Here is one unvarnished look about the work of the Foreign Service, and what happens beyond the picture perfect moments overseas.  But they’re busy over there on how “Sports Show We Have Power.” About —More Travel, More Tourists, More Jobs.  And something about Eating – individuals and leaders.

Read the entire post here.

I will miss 4G’s posts about her Things who have since been evacuated from post; she won’t see them again for months.  But I’m looking forward to more 4G posts.  You know, some diplomatic nightingale told me that the ABAs (also known as Angry Bearded Assholes, the  mob not the band) got really frustrated and all when the fire retardant carpets wouldn’t light. If anyone can write funny over this, that would be 4G.

The ABAs apparently also broke the flag pole in the compound so the only choice the responsible officer had at post was the gigantic flag previously used during the Fourth of July. That’s what you see in the photo above the very next day after the attack; don’t think vehicle in the picture is there by accident.

A quick screen capture of the aftermath of the attack below. Click on the image below to see more before and after photos of the embassy compound. Breaks your heart.

Before/after photos of US Embassy Tunis

In a previous post, I threw a fit about those “It’s not our job to stop people from taking things” gardeners  in Benghazi. I should have noted that those are the exceptions. The motor pool employees who saved the mission’s USG vehicles here are all local employees. They saved the official vehicles rather than try and save their personal vehicles. Some 68 personal vehicles were reportedly torched. Imagine that.  (I don’t know that car insurance companies cover the total loss from a mob attack).  These local employees are the familiar ones you all know from post to post, loyal and heroic; the same ones who stay behind when our American employees are evacuated, the same ones who sometimes become targets as well.

As I write this, I’m thinking of the family left behind by Qassim M. Aklan, a local employee at the US Embassy in Sanaa who was shot dead last Thursday.  Yemeni officials said the killing bore the hallmarks of an attack by the al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

And so — under siege, our Foreign Service people called/texted their loved ones not knowing if they were ever going to see them again. Then they kept working as they’ve been trained to do.

Meanwhile, back home, our Angry Beardless Politicians continue to bicker and play the game of Who’s More Angry Than a Toddler.





4 responses

  1. And so the real question is- why are we there? If the host country wants us there, then they need to be able to control this. I’m sorry, but the presence of a PD section pushing Twitter or women’s rights or green initiatives in a country that cannot keep the Visigoths off the wall? Why do we need a presence in every country in the world… pushing things that just make us look like we are from some other planet? Don’t bother, I know the stock answer. It is in the talking points somewhere, I’m sure.

    • Warpiper, there has to be consequences when a host country cannot/will not protect our diplomats and diplomatic premises under its international obligation. Maybe we should reduce our footprint, shut down the visa section, reallocate aid funds … I don’t know, something. It would be a double edge strategery. As we do this, we can use State’s new “twittersation” and see just how effectively that works in the real world.

  2. In the video you linked to of the attack on Tunis on 15 September you can see a Foreign Service National Investigator (FSNI) at work. He’s the one at the 3:34 mark chasing away the attacker trying to pull down the flag. Loyal and heroic indeed.

    Qassim M. Aklan was also an FSNI.