Obama Administration Still Not Ready to Call It a Terror Attack

September 13, 2012

Asked directly on Wednesday evening if Tuesday's deadly violence in Libya was "linked to a terror attack" - possibly al-Qaeda - a State Department official demurred:

"Frankly, we are not in a position to speak any further to the perpetrators of this attack. It was clearly a complex attack. We're going to have to do a full investigation," the unnamed "senior administration official" told a background teleconference briefing.

"We are committed to working with the Libyans both on the investigation and to ensure that we bring the perpetrators to justice. The FBI is already committed to assisting in that, but I just - we're - it's just too early to speak to who they were and if they might have been otherwise affiliated beyond Libya."

The State Department also said it was still "operating within the confusion of first reports" from Libya. "Many details of what happened in Benghazi are still unknown or unclear," the official said. "These are first reports, and so the facts could very well change as we get a better understanding."

As the hours passed, however, it became increasingly evident that the worst of Tuesday's violence in Benghazi had nothing to do with an obscure film insulting Mohammed.

According to briefing administration officials, fighting between "unidentified Libyan extremists" and U.S. and Libyan security personnel lasted for more than four hours - from 10 PM-2.30 AM (4-8.30 PM eastern U.S. time).

"This was a well-armed, well-coordinated event, it had both indirect and direct fire, and it had military maneuvers that were all part of this very organized attack," House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told MSNBC. "That's concerning, so we are going to have to make sure, working with the Libyans hopefully, that these people are brought to justice very swiftly."

Reports in the independent Libya Herald cited eyewitnesses in Benghazi as saying the attackers were Islamist Salafists, including members of one of the jihadists groups that have emerged in Libya in the aftermath of the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Ansar al-Sharia.

A Libyan diplomat in London, Ahmad Jibril, also named Ansar al-Sharia as the perpetrators of the attack, the BBC reported.

The Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank set up by Muslims in 2008 with the declared aim of countering extreme Islamist ideology, also pointed to the sophistication of the assault in Benghazi and the use of weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades.

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