Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif said he believes Al Qaeda is responsible for the deadly attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans and that roughly 50 people have arrested in connection with the violence, according to two broadcast interviews Sunday.
Megarif, president of the Libyan National Congress, also differed with the Obama administration’s position that the attacks that started Tuesday were sparked by an anti-Islamic video on the Internet.
In an interview with NPR, Megarif said foreigners over the past few months have been infiltrating his country, which has been undergoing major changes since the uprising against the late dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Megarif says the attackers, whom he believes are connected to Al Qaeda, used the protests as a cover to attack the U.S. Consulate on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous," Megarif told NPR. "We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate."
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. staffers were killed in the attack.
"Our friend and friend of all Libyans and all residents of Benghazi and we feel very, very, very," deep sadness, Megarif told NPR.
His comments come on the same day Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went on four Sunday morning talk show to back up the administration’s position that the video led to the violence, specifically in Libya.
“The best information and the best assessment we have today is that this was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. And those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.”
Rice also said the FBI is investigating the incident and that similar Middle East outbreaks could occur -- consider the 1989 release of the book “Satanic Verses” forced author Salman Rushdie into hiding and the more recent, violent reactions to cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an evil way.
“So this is something we've seen in the past, and we expect that it's possible that these kinds of things could percolate into the future,” Rice said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Megarif said in a separate interview with CBS News that Libyan authorities had arrested about 50 people in connection with the attack.
The Americans were killed when attackers fired on the U.S. consulate with rocket-propelled grenades and set it on fire.
Megarif said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that "a few" of those who joined in the attack were foreigners, who had entered Libya "from different directions, some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria."
"The others are affiliates and maybe sympathizers," he said.
Megarif also repeated his assertion that the attacks were planned.
The way these perpetrators acted and moved … and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, I think … this leaves us with no doubt,” he said.