Secretary of State Clinton hints Benghazi attack might be linked to Al Qaeda in North Africa

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks on the Sahel at the United Nations in New York, New York on September 26, 2012. SOURCE: State.gov

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested this week that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may have been been involved the Benghazi terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks on the Sahel at the United Nations in New York, New York on September 26, 2012. SOURCE: State.gov

The Al Qaeda affiliate responsible for the Islamist rebellion in Northern Mali may be exploiting the democratic transitions in nearby countries, like Libya, Clinton said on Wednesday.

“With a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions. And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi,” said Clinton.

Her remarks were made at a meeting convened by U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon on the escalating violence, impending civil war, and humanitarian crisis in Mali, threatening to destabilize the Sahel region of Africa, which stretches from Senegal to the west across the Sahara Desert through Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea to east.

Clinton said that the U.S. is intensifying its counter-terrorism efforts in western and northern Africa to capture those responsible for the Benghazi attack and to combat the growing threats posed by regional terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb.

“We’re taking aim at the support structure of al-Qaida and its affiliates – closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering their ideology and denying them recruits,” she said. 

Clinton’s statements marked the first time that a senior administration official publicly cited a link between Al Qaeda and the brazen attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. On the same day, NBC’s Today Show aired an interview with Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf who insisted that he had “no doubt” the Benghazi attack was a “pre-planned act of terrorism directed against American citizens.”

The Obama administration initially presented the attack as a “spontaneous” act of violence amid the angry demonstrations sparked by the “Innocence of Muslims” web video, which denigrated Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Within days following the attack, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on several Sunday news programs claiming that violent extremists – armed with heavy weapons that are “readily available” in Libya since the revolution – joined the “spontaneous” protest outside the Benghazi consulate and “spun from there into something much, much more violent.”

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

Last week, the administration’s top counter-terrorism official acknowledged that the Benghazi attack was an act of “terrorism”.

Appearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Matthew Olsen testified that the initial reports indicated that heavily-armed militants hijacked the protest to launch an “opportunistic” terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate. Noting that an FBI investigation was still in its early stages, Olsen stated that preliminary intelligence did not indicate a “significant planning or coordination” for the Benghazi attack.

The Obama administration’s shifting viewpoints on the Benghazi attack were roundly criticized by Republicans, including some who accused the administration of engaging in a cover-up – a charge that White House spokesman Jay Carney denied on Thursday.

“Every step of the way, the information that we have provided to you and the general public about the attack in Benghazi has been based on the best intelligence we’ve had and the assessments of our intelligence community.  We have said all along that there’s an ongoing investigation and that as more facts come out, we will follow those facts wherever they lead and apprise you of our assessments as those facts come to light,” said Carney. “From the very first hours after the attacks and the unrest in Cairo, there has been an attempt, unfortunately, by Republicans, beginning with Governor Romney, to try to turn this event into a partisan issue, to try to score political points out of a terrorist attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including our Ambassador to Libya — and that’s unfortunate.”

Transcript of NBC reporter Ann Curry’s interview with Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf on Sept. 26, 2012:

Ann Curry: “Would you call the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi an act of terrorism?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “I have no doubt about that, and it’s a pre-planned act of terrorism directed against American citizens.”

Ann Curry: “What is your evidence that it was a pre-planned act of terrorism?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Number one is choosing the death, 11th of September. It has all the significance. We take the fact about the way it was executed. Can you see there’s enough proof that it is a pre-planned act of terrorism.”

Ann Curry: “Describe the attack based on your investigation.”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “It’s too early for me to give the details, but it was launched with a high degree of accuracy which means the perpetrators must have had some kind of exercise on how to hit and launch these rockets.”

Ann Curry: “You’re confirming that RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] were used in the initial attack.”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Mortars.”

Ann Curry: “Mortar were used in the subsequent attack.”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “At the safe house, yes.”

Ann Curry: “And do you know how many mortars were used?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “About 5.”

Ann Curry: “And you’re saying these were fired with such accuracy.”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Yes.”

Ann Curry: “That this could not have been done by someone who did not have experience.”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Experience and knew what he was doing.”

Ann Curry: “And this is what is helping convince you that this was a pre-planned attack, not a reaction to a controversial movie?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Yes, I have no doubt about this.”

Ann Curry: “Do you think the movie had anything to do with the attack on the consulate?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “Not on this attack. It has nothing to do with this attack.”

Ann Curry: “So do you know then who is behind this attack and what the motive was?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “I think it’s Al Qaeda elements, hiding in Libya.”

Ann Curry: “Is there any direct evidence that this is Al Qaeda behind this attack on the U.S. consulate?”

Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf: “So far not. So far not. As the investigation progresses, there is the likes of that that will show that the attack on the consulate was pre-planned with the intention of killing Ambassador Stevens. That is too early to say.”

 

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