On Sept. 13, 2012, a Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.
After 23 days, Libyan authorities finally cordoned off the consulate Thursday and prohibited people from entering it as American investigators made their first brief visit to the site. For weeks, Washington has said it was too dangerous to send FBI agents to Benghazi. But now, they may be too late to piece together the clues to the attack. A number of Libyans and foreigners have visited the compound, according to the gardener Idris Muhammad Juma’a. “Every day people come and look around,” Idris told TIME, sitting in a plastic chair under a palm tree on Tuesday. “The other day some Turks came and took a big painting.”
But it is not the disappearance of paintings that should disturb American investigators and intelligence officials. Large white boards listing names and numbers of U.S. military and diplomatic installations abroad have vanished. Documents with detailed accounts of previous attacks against the consulate have disappeared as well. “It’s not our job to stop people from taking things,” Idris says. “We are just gardeners.”
Though Idris and his companion are tending to the grounds, the Americans have not secured the compound. Idris saysAmerican officials only visited the consulate once around Sept. 24. “They came with some translators and took some pictures. They left after 10 minutes.”
It is not only the consulate the FBI has neglected. Libyans guarding the compound the night of the attacknote they have not been contacted by Americans since the incident. “I thought they would want to speak to us,” says Muhammad, who saw some of the attackers. “But no one has called us.”