The Obama administration has conceded that the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya on September 11 was, in fact, an act of terrorism. And intelligence officials suspect that al Qaeda’s affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), orchestrated the raid.
Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), said there were “indications” that al Qaeda was responsible during testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee today. According to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, Senator Joseph Lieberman asked Olsen about the Benghazi attack. During one of his answers Olsen replied, “I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.”
“We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda's affiliates; in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” Olsen elaborated.
Olsen could not say whether the attack was pre-planned, or if the terrorists simply took advantage of a supposedly spontaneous protest.
During testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, CIA director David Petraeus also reportedly pointed the finger at al Qaeda. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, summarized Petraeus’s briefing during an interview with ABC News.
“At this point it looks as if there was a spontaneous situation that occurred and that as a result of that, the extreme groups that were probably connected to al Qaeda took advantage of that situation and then the attack started,” Ruppersberger said.
The role of protesters angered by an anti-Islam film remains in dispute, however.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies