Versus a couple of local security guards who were never taught how to fire their weapons.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — It began around nightfall on Sept. 11 with around 150 bearded gunmen, some wearing the Afghan-style tunics favored by Islamic militants, sealing off the streets leading to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. They set up roadblocks with pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, according to witnesses.

The trucks bore the logo of Ansar al-Shariah, a powerful local group of Islamist militants who worked with the municipal government to manage security in Benghazi, the main city in eastern Libya and birthplace of the uprising last year that ousted Moammar Gadhafi after a 42-year dictatorship.

There was no sign of a spontaneous protest against an American-made movie denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. But a lawyer passing by the scene said he saw the militants gathering around 20 youths from nearby to chant against the film. Within an hour or so, the assault began, guns blazing as the militants blasted into the compound.

One of the consulate’s private Libyan guards said masked militants grabbed him and beat him, one of them calling him “an infidel protecting infidels who insulted the prophet.” [...]

The past week, the AP has gathered accounts from five witnesses, including one of the embassy guards and several people living next door to the consulate compound who were present when the militants first moved in. Most spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals for talking about the attack.

The neighbors all described the militants setting up checkpoints around the compound at about 8 p.m. The State Department’s timeline says the attack itself began at around 9:40 p.m.

Khaled al-Haddar, a lawyer who passed by the scene as he headed to his nearby home, said he saw the fighters gathering a few youths from among passers-by and urged them to chant against the film.

“I am certain they had planned to do something like this, I don’t know if it was hours or days, but it was definitely planned,” said al-Haddar. “From the way they set up the checkpoints and gathered people, it was very professional.”

The guard said he saw no protesters. He heard a few shouts of “God is great,” then a barrage of automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades began, along with barrages from heavy machine guns mounted on trucks.

The attackers set fire to the main consulate building. Stevens and another staffer, caught inside amid the confusion, died of smoke inhalation.

The attack came from the front and the side. A neighbor whose house is on side of the consulate compound said militants with their faces wrapped in scarves attacking.

Because of the checkpoints, “it felt like our neighborhood was occupied, no one could get out or in,” he said.

The effectiveness of the roadblocks was later revealed in the State Department’s account of the evacuation. It described how the rescue force came under heavy fire and grenade attacks as they tried to leave the consulate area.

They evacuated staffers to a security compound across town, where they continued to come under fire. A precision mortar hit the compound’s building at 4 a.m., killing two other Americans.