U.S. counter-terrorism official calls Benghazi consulate assault an ‘opportunistic’ terrorist attack

WTF Libya embassy timeline hp 9.14.12

A top U.S. counter-terrorism official told Congress last week that the deadly Benghazi consulate attack was an act of “terrorism” committed by militants who exploited the angry protests over the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

“The facts that we have now indicate that this was an opportunistic attack,” said Matthew Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). “The [Benghazi] attack began and evolved and escalated over several hours…It appears that individuals who are certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the event unfolded that evening into the morning hours of Sept. 12.”

The low-budget video, which denigrated Islam’s prophet Muhammad, has fanned violent demonstrations against U.S. diplomatic posts in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan since it went ‘viral’ on YouTube two weeks ago.

The protests first erupted in Cairo, Egypt on Sept. 11th and spread to Libya. The U.S. consulate in Benghazi was stormed and set ablaze by heavily-armed militants later that night. The attack lasted 4.5 hours and killed 4 Americans: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and embassy security personnel and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

So far, Libyan authorities have arrested 50 people in connection with the consulate attack.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Olsen told lawmakers that preliminary intelligence did not indicate a “significant planning or coordination” for the Benghazi attack.

“We’re still developing facts and still looking for any indications of substantial advanced planning. We just haven’t seen that at this point,” said Olsen.

While he emphasized that the FBI is still investigating the matter, Olsen suggested that armed extremists successfully hijacked the anti-American demonstrations as cover to launch their assault on the U.S. consulate.

Olsen’s comments reinforced the earlier statements made by Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

“…Soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that– in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent,” Rice told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer on “Face The Nation” on Sept. 16. “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

Their assessments, however, have contradicted claims made by Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf that the Benghazi attack was “preplanned…predetermined” by foreign terrorists, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda, who have infiltrated Libya from Mali, Algeria, and other countries.

“The way these perpetrators acted and moved, I think we– and they’re choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, I think we have no– this leaves us with no doubt that this has preplanned, determined– predetermined,” Magariaf told CBS News. “It was planned– definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who– who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their– since their arrival.”

At the hearing, however, Olsen said initial reports indicated that multiple groups were involved in the consulate attack.

“What I would say is that a number of different elements appeared to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in Eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. As well, we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda’s affiliates, in particular Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” said Olsen. “As you know, the FBI is leading the investigation and that’s ongoing.”  

Magariaf, who took office last month, emphasized that the Benghazi attack are not condoned by most Libyans.

“These ugly deeds, criminal deeds against direct– were directed against them, Late Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues do not resemble any way, in any sense, the aspirations, the feelings of Libyans towards the United States and its citizens,” said Magariaf.

Libya has been experiencing political turmoil, unrest, and violence in some areas due to the security vacuum that resulted following the ouster of Libya’s long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi. This vacuum has allowed arms and weapons to flow into Libya, creating opportunities for extremists and terrorists to exploit.

“The Arab Spring or Awakening – now in progress for well over a year – has led to fundamental reforms in the region. Al Qaeda was not part of this change but the group is seeking to take advantage of the unrest in some areas – seeking to establish safe havens and to recruit extremists where security is diminished,” said Olsen.

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