The Obama administration said the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack and some of those involved may have links to al-Qaida.
“It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama to Florida.
The administration has come under criticism from Republicans who say the U.S. failed to adequately prepare for the possibility of violence on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Obama, speaking at a forum in Florida held by the Spanish- language network Univision, said the U.S. will continue building ties in the region following the Arab Spring upheaval.
“The one thing we can’t do is withdraw from the region,” Obama said. “They still want our leadership and they still look to us” for assistance in developing democratic governments.
Carney cited congressional testimony by Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, that the U.S. is looking at evidence that some of those involved in the attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. personnel, may have ties to al-Qaeda or affiliated groups.
Olsen told the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday that militants took advantage of unrest stoked by an amateur film made in the U.S. denigrating the Prophet Muhammad.
Initial information from the U.S. investigation is that “it was an opportunistic attack in which elements including, possibly, elements of al-Qaida in the Maghreb, participated,” Carney said today.
FBI officials are due to arrive in Benghazi by Sept. 21 to work alongside Libyan officials. Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said eight Libyan nationals have been arrested in connection with the Sept. 11 assault and that several suspects are being sought after crossing the border into Egypt.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that she is forming an Accountability Review Board to look into the attack.
The board will be led by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering, who has served as U.S. ambassador in Russia, India, Jordan and Israel.
Clinton reiterated that the U.S. will keep supporting Libya and other governments in the Middle East and North Africa that are battling extremists. “We continue to support those who are fighting for universal values,” Clinton said in an appearance at the State Department.
Clinton today gave lawmakers a classified briefing on the events of last week.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said afterward that nothing in the briefing “changed my opinion” that the attack was planned to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
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