By Justin Fishel, ,
Published December 23, 2015
The State Department has not ruled out the possibility that the deadly terrorist attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were motivated by an anti-Islamic video, despite a growing chorus of criticism over the Obama administration's initial claims that the violence was a "spontaneous" outgrowth of a protest over the video.
The assault on the consulate that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans occurred on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the terrorists attacks in the U.S., and authorities now suspect it was carried out by extremists with ties to Al Qaeda.
Republicans -- from Capitol Hill lawmakers to Mitt Romney -- have blasted Obama administration officials for repeatedly citing the crudely made video, which was produced in the United States and posted online months ago. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., in particular has taken heat for saying on five different networks' Sunday shows five days after the attacks that it was a "spontaneous" event that grew out of the protests of the video that have swept the region.
Republicans have called such statements by Rice, White House spokesman Jay Carney and others misleading at best and possibly driven by a desire to downplay a terrorist attack so close to the presidential election.
But a recent news report from the region suggests a more direct connection between the violence in Benghazi and the video that sparked the protests, and sources at the State Department and in the Pentagon, speaking to Fox News on the condition of anonymity, say investigators are still determining if there is a legitimate link.
The news report, by a New York Times reporter based in Cairo, cites interviews with people in Libya who said the attackers suggested shortly after the attack that they "did it in retaliation for the video."
The Times also noted a news conference held the day after the attack by a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah, the militant group suspected of being responsible for the killings. "We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the Prophet," the spokesman said. The Prophet Muhammad was the focus of the offensive video.
And the story suggests that the group, though perhaps in contact with elements of Al Qaeda, was composed mostly of local militants.
Such details seem to lend credence to at least part of the explanation given by Rice, who has said she was basing her assessment on the intelligence at hand. Even so, the Times article underscores other evidence that the attack was planned in advance and that there was no protest outside the consulate before the strike, contrary to the picture Rice and other administration officials were painting early on.
"What sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world," Rice said Sept. 16 on "Fox News Sunday."
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Fox News that she takes responsibility for any consulate security failures that led to the deaths of the four Americans in Benghazi. Clinton made similar comments in interviews with multiple networks Monday while visiting Peru.
But while acknowledging that Ambassador Rice and the intelligence community were wrong in some of their initial assertions about the attack, Clinton blamed that false narrative on the "fog of war [and] the confusion that you get in any kind of combat situation."