Al-Qaida and other international terror groups were not involved in the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012, The New York Times reports
in a detailed account of events that fateful night in Libya.
"The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against" Col. Moammar Gadhafi
, the Times says. "And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."
The lengthy report resulted from months of examination, the Times said, and "centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context."
The investigation appears to debunk claims by congressional Republicans linking al-Qaida to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALs, and back the Obama administration's longstanding position that the offensive video fueled the attack.
Republicans — including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — have long accused the White House of trying to cover up Benghazi, while many others have called for an investigation by a special prosecutor.
Five days after the attacks, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, went on five Sunday morning talk shows and said that the incident began as a peaceful protest against an anti-Muslim film produced by a California developer that was later “hijacked” by militants.
In her congressional testimony in January, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that her agency could not obtain reliable information as the assaults were unfolding.
Rice, who is now President Barack Obama's national security adviser, labeled Benghazi "a false controversy" in a "60 Minutes" interview this week.
According to the Times report, the central figure in the Benghazi attacks was Ahmed Abu Khattala, described as a prime suspect by U.S. officials. Libyans described him to the Times as "an eccentric, malcontent militia leader" — and he was "firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias" before and after the assault.
Abu Khattala has denied any role in Benghazi and no militia leaders will turn him over to the United States for prosecution, the Times reports.
Despite his disdain for the United States, Abu Khattala had "no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person CIA station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation," the Times reports.
But Abu Khattala "was never more than a step removed from the most influential commanders who dominated Benghazi and who befriended the Americans," according to the report.
As for the actual attacks on Sept. 11, the American consulate had been under surveillance for at least 12 hours before the assaults began — and the violence "also had spontaneous elements," the Times reports.
"Anger at the video motivated the initial attack," along with those responding to "fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters," according to interviews with more than a dozen Libyans and with U.S. officials who viewed footage from security cameras.
"Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack," the Times reports.
The day before, however, the Benghazi CIA officials briefed Stevens and his deputy, David McFarland, about possible violence on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"But the American intelligence efforts in Libya concentrated on the agendas of the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to al-Qaida," according to the Times.
None of the sessions, however — "like virtually all briefings over that period" — did not mention Abu Khattala or the video, the Times reports.
During the attacks, embattled Americans at the consulate called on local militia groups for help, but they "proved unreliable, even hostile," according to the report.
Stevens died of apparent smoke inhalation when he was caught inside the main consulate building, becoming separated from the other fleeing diplomats, including Sean Smith, who also was killed.
The two former Navy SEALS who died in the attacks were Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
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