Despite initial Obama administration assertions that the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was spontaneous and instigated by an almost entirely unknown YouTube video attacking the Muslim prophet Muhammad, there is increasing evidence that the attack was coordinated and linked to al-Qaida.
In a video message released on Sept. 10, 2012 — the day before the attack on the consulate — al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri confirmed for the first time the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born top al-Qaida member killed by an American drone strike in Pakistan in June. Zawahiri expressed hope in the video that with the “martyrdom” of al-Libi, “people will flock even more to his writings and call.”
“I celebrate with the Islamic nation, the holy warriors, the prince of the faithful Mullah Omar and the Muslims and jihadists in Libya, the news of the martyrdom of Libya’s lion,” Zawahiri said.
A day after the video message aired, the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other American personnel were killed in the consulate attack in Benghazi.
While the release of the video confirming the death of “Libya’s lion” and the attack on the Benghazi consulate may very well be unconnected, the Obama administration’s charge that the Benghazi attack was the spontaneous result of outrage over an anti-Islam film seems even less likely given recent evidence.
CBS News reported Thursday that witnesses on the ground in Benghazi said there were no anti-American protests outside of the consulate at the time of the attack.
Libyan interim President Mohammed el-Megarif himself has implicated a Libyan Islamist group that has ties to al-Qaida as responsible for the deadly assault, which he suggested was pre-planned.
“I think this was al-Qaida,” el-Megarif said last week in an interview with al-Jazeera. “If you take into account the weapons used, like RPGs and other heavy weapons, it proves that it was pre-planned. It’s a dirty act of revenge that has nothing to do with religion.”
El-Megarif has also claimed that U.S. communications intercepts before the attack tied a Libyan militia, Ansar al-Sharia, to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Meanwhile, Fox News reported that intelligence sources told the news organization that they believed al-Qaida was involved in the attack and that a former Guantanamo detainee participated.
CNN reported Thursday that a source told it that Stevens had been worried that al-Qaida’s presence in Libya was expanding and even suggested his name was on an al-Qaida hit list.
Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that from the information he has seen, the attack has all the signs of an al-Qaida operation, even if he can’t yet definitely say the group was involved.
“We can’t say for certain it was an al-Qaida event; it just has all of the hallmarks of an al-Qaida-style event,” he said.
On Wednesday, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen said that he would classify the attack as an act of terrorism.
“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.