The Obama administration’s editing of the Benghazi talking points not only obscured what really happened in Libya on September 11, 2012, it also confused the events of earlier that day in Cairo, Egypt. The editing process specifically removed any hint that “jihadists” were encouraged to “break into” the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. In fact, jihadists were incited to act by Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as several other al Qaeda-linked extremists.
At least six versions of the Benghazi talking points drafted on September 14, 2012 included the following sentence, or language nearly identical to it:
“On 10 September the Agency notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy.”
By the morning of September 15, however, this language had been struck. According to the House Republicans’ “Interim Progress Report” on the Benghazi attack, a Deputies Committee Meeting consisting of representatives from several departments was held that morning. Afterwards, “a small group of officials from both the State Department and the CIA worked to modify the talking points,” striking, among other items, “any and all suggestions that the State Department had been previously warned of threats in the region.”
The pre-9/11 threats were plain to see.
On his Twitter feed on September 10, for instance, Mohammed al Zawahiri called for a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. A translation of the text in his tweet reads, “Victory for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him: Sheikh Mohammed al Zawahiri calls on the sons of the Jihadi Movement to participate tomorrow in the demonstration in front of the American Embassy.”
A banner showing an al Qaeda-style black flag was included in Mohammed al Zawahiri’s tweet. Part of the banner reads: “Demonstration for the victory of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).” The banner continues: “In front of the American Embassy. Assembly time: 4.”
Mohammed al Zawahiri’s tweet, therefore, telegraphed the jihadists’ interest in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The younger Zawahiri frequently flaunts his loyalty to al Qaeda’s ideology, even while claiming that he is not tied to the al Qaeda organization. The latter claim is extremely dubious and should not be accepted at face value.
While being interviewed during the September 11 protest in Cairo, Mohammed al Zawahiri admitted that he helped stage it.
“We called for the peaceful protest joined by different Islamic factions including the Islamic Jihad (and the) Hazem Abu Ismail movement,” he said, according to CNN. Islamic Jihad is the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a designated terrorist organization that is a core part of al Qaeda’s international jihadist coalition. Abu Ismail is a popular Egyptian political figure who has been friendly with the Zawahiri brothers. (The banner in Zawahiri’s tweet includes a small image that asks: “Where was Abu Ismail before the revolution?”)
In October, an Egyptian propaganda outfit named Al Faroq Media released a video showcasing Mohammed al Zawahiri’s role in sparking the 9/11 Cairo protest. The video was first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group and can be viewed in full at the beginning of this article.
Al Faroq Media is not an official al Qaeda propaganda arm, but it is openly pro-al Qaeda. The group regularly promotes Mohammed al Zawahiri’s work on its Facebook page and other outlets. In addition to Zawahiri, three other prominent al Qaeda-linked jihadists were featured in the Al Faroq video. Together, they helped incite the protest-turned-riot in Cairo and turn it into a pro-al Qaeda affair.
Thus, the 9/11 protest in Cairo was not simply the result of an unorganized mob’s reaction to a little-known You Tube video promoting Innocence of Muslims. The protest, which resulted in the American flag being replaced by al Qaeda’s black banner on top of a U.S. Embassy, was intended to show that al Qaeda’s ideology lives, even as senior al Qaeda terrorists are killed.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri said as much in a video released the day before, on September 10, 2012. Al Qaeda’s “message has spread amongst our Muslim Ummah, which received it with acceptance and responded to it,” the older Zawahiri said in the video, which was disseminated by al Qaeda’s official media arm. After Ayman al Zawahiri speaks these words, a clip from another Al Faroq Media video starring Mohammed al Zawahiri and his fellow Egyptian jihadists is shown.
These jihadists, in effect, proved Ayman al Zawahiri’s point. They gave us the 9/11 protest in Cairo during which protesters waved dozens of al Qaeda’s black banners and chanted “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!” Others, including soccer hooligans, were involved in the Cairo protest as well. But the role of the jihadists cannot be denied.
Several days later, on September 15, the Obama administration’s talking points were edited to remove any reference to “jihadists” threatening the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
On this point, the final version of the talking points read:
“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
There never were any “demonstrations” in Benghazi, only a terrorist attack. There was a protest in Cairo, but the circumstances surrounding that event were muddled to such an extent that any hint of what really transpired was lost. The final sentence in the quote above does refer to generic “extremists,” but the more pointed reference to “jihadist” threats in Cairo prior to 9/11 was removed entirely. The same is true with respect to the perpetrators of the attack in Benghazi, whom the CIA initially identified as a “mix of individuals,” including “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda.” The final version of the talking points excluded that as well.
The early versions of the Benghazi talking points were right to highlight the threat posed by “jihadists” in Cairo. The thread connecting Cairo to Benghazi is plain to see: Al Qaeda-linked jihadists helped orchestrate both.
The Obama administration’s edits removed them from the story.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.