During a conference call Tuesday evening, two State Department officials briefed reporters on the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Obama administration officials had insisted that the violence was a result of a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islam film. It is now crystal clear, if it wasn’t before, that there was never any protest.
Instead, as revealed during the congressional testimony of State Department official Charlene Lamb on Wednesday, four Americans were killed in a large-scale terrorist assault involving “dozens of attackers…that was unprecedented in its size and intensity.”
Ambassador Christopher Stevens walked his guests out “around 8:30 [pm] or so,” according to one State Department official who briefed reporters, and “there was no one on the street at approximately 9:40, then there was the noise and then we saw on the cameras the – a large number of armed men assaulting the compound.”
There was no protest before the terrorist assault. When asked what led the Obama administration to conclude that a protest precipitated the violence, this same State Department official responded: “That is a question that you would have to ask others. That was not our conclusion. I’m not saying that we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened.”
That outline reveals a sophisticated terrorist attack, in which those responsible systematically torched the consulate compound with diesel fuel and assaulted the buildings and personnel with RPGs and AK-47s.
The result is that the State Department has disavowed responsibility for the administration’s claim that a protest sparked the attack. The question now becomes: Which party, within the intelligence community or the administration, thought that a protest had occurred?
On September 28, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) put out a statement that took blame for the phony storyline. “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo,” the statement reads. “We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”
What was the ODNI’s basis for coming to that conclusion? The State Department’s briefing makes it clear that there was no protest captured on film – just dozens of terrorists. But that is not to say the attack wasn’t connected to events in Egypt.
Congress should press not only in its investigation of the events in Libya, but also the embassy assaults in Egypt and elsewhere. All signs point to al Qaeda-affiliated parties being responsible for the attack in Benghazi. But in Egypt, there are also significant ties between al Qaeda and the protest-turned-storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
On September 10, al Qaeda released a video starring Ayman al Zawahiri, who called on jihadists to avenge the death top al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi. A clip of Ayman’s younger brother, Mohammed al Zawahiri, was shown in the video.
Al Qaeda used the video to argue that the organization has not been defeated, as is widely claimed. Instead, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, Ayman al Zawahiri said that al Qaeda’s “message has spread amongst our Muslim Ummah, which received it with acceptance and responded to it.” Mohammed al Zawahiri said basically the same thing to CNN earlier this year, arguing that al Qaeda’s strength is “not in its leaders but in its ideology.”
Flash forward just one day later to September 11, 2012. At the protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, al Qaeda flags are flown. One replaces the stars and stripes. The protesters chant: “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama!”
Who is the man who admittedly helped organize the protest? Mohammed al Zawahiri. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Intelligence officials think that Mohammed al Zawahiri also arranged for one of the main Benghazi suspects to contact his older brother, Ayman al Zawahiri.
The Obama administration erroneously blamed an anti-Islam film for the terrorist attack in Benghazi. The administration also claimed that the protest in Egypt was merely about the same film. But there is far more to the events in Egypt, too.
Congress should press forward in its investigation.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.