The Motive and the Means: Did al-Qaeda Stage the Benghazi Attack?

Two prominent Libyans familiar with the terrorist group insist it was behind the assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens

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Esam Al-Fetori / Reuters

The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is seen in flames on Sept. 11, 2012

Clarification and correction appended: Oct. 2, 2012

Three weeks after the calamitous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a former Libyan intelligence chief tells TIME that he is convinced that the assault was a premeditated operation carried out by al-Qaeda’s North African wing — an organization that until now was believed to have a stronger presence elsewhere in the region. “It is not what I think. It is what I know,” insists Rami El-Obeidi, who until late last year was in charge of intelligence for the rebel national transitional government that eventually overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. “It is my very strong belief that this was an operation that was preplanned and that it has been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

Though weeks have passed, the political ramifications about what went so disastrously wrong in Benghazi on Sept. 11 continue to gather steam in Washington. The attack killed the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens — the first such death of a U.S. envoy in three decades — as well as two Navy SEALs and a fourth American. And although it occurred on the anniversary of the 2001 attacks, when security is typically on high alert, the assault by militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades seemed to catch those inside the consulate totally off guard, leaving them trapped and outgunned in a building with inadequate protection.

(MORE: Libya’s Flawed Attempt to Soak Up a Flood of Weaponry)

U.S. officials at first speculated that the attack had been the result of a protest that spun horribly out of control. On Meet the Press on Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the attack had been “initially a spontaneous reaction” to the riots outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo earlier in the afternoon of Sept. 11, a copy of a protest against a California-made video uploaded to YouTube that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. Last week Republican Senators criticized Rice over that assessment, which has since been rescinded by U.S. officials. Nevertheless, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes Rice “has done a superb job.”

Among Libyan intelligence experts, however, the early statements out of Washington seemed confounding, since in their view a terrorist attack had seemed almost foretold — and disconnected from the protests against the YouTube video. “It had absolutely nothing to do with the ridiculous film about the Prophet,” Obeidi tells TIME. Speaking from Benghazi, he says he had in fact been deeply concerned about a possible attack there, where the revolution began last year. “Don’t forget, al-Qaeda had started to operate right from the beginning of the revolution,” he says. “They have been in preparation mode and organized their ranks from the first week of March of 2011 and infiltrated many of the brigades.”

With al-Qaeda’s ranks in place in Libya, Obeidi argues, terrorist operatives waited for the right moment to strike. The signal for action might have come on Sept. 10, when al-Qaeda posted a 42-min. videotaped statement by its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on jihadi websites, announcing that top al-Qaeda commander Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan three months earlier. Al-Zawahiri called for vengeance, saying, “His blood urges you and incites you to fight and kill the crusaders.”

As soon as the video hit the Internet, an al-Qaeda strike in Libya seemed possible, according to Noman Benotman, the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had been an al-Qaeda affiliate until breaking ranks with Osama bin Laden in the 2000s. Speaking to TIME on Tuesday, Benotman said he told a Western terrorism expert — whom he did not name — that “if nothing happens by Sept. 13, we will be very lucky, but the next 48 hours there is a very high possibility.” Benotman, who now runs the antiextremist Quilliam Foundation in London, says he and that expert have since “met and he said, ‘You were right.’”

(PHOTOS: Protests Rage in Middle East, Sparked by Anti-Islamic Film)

Drawing the links between the Benghazi attack and the actual structure of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is now a crucial task for U.S. intelligence officials and investigators. Citing security sources in Benghazi, Benotman says that among the 50 or so people arrested after the attack were “Malians and Algerians,” suggesting that the regional terrorist organization was involved. “Without a doubt, there is a connection between AQIM and Libya,” he says. “They have opened channels. They have laid down the infrastructure for future attacks.”

In addition, there have been signs of large quantities of arms being smuggled into and out of Libya in recent months, many of them from the giant arsenals left over from Gaddafi’s dictatorship. In early September, Tunisian officials arrested arms smugglers on its border with Libya. And in late September, Algerian officials arrested several people ferrying massive quantities of weaponry from Libya; they were apparently heading toward Niger and Mali.

With all the pieces in place for an al-Qaeda attack, Obeidi says he and others “expected something on Sept. 11. There was the al-Libi death. And what could be more of a symbolic date than that?”

How U.S. officials were taken by surprise or were left unprepared is part of the controversy now roiling in Washington. Benotman, who meets occasionally with U.S. officials and has become a regular guest at antiterrorism gatherings, says he believes the Administration has lately downplayed the threat of al-Qaeda, “as if it was dead these past 12 months,” in order to highlight its successes in fighting terrorism, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. For that reason, he believes the initial U.S. response about the Benghazi attack “was more of a political response than a fact-based response.”

Obeidi has a simpler explanation for why the U.S. apparently missed the threat of an attack: “There was a massive intelligence failure on behalf of our American friends,” he says, adding, “However, I do believe that the Americans learn very fast from their mistakes.”

Clarification: In an e-mail to TIME, Susan Rice’s spokeswoman, Erin Pelton, said the ambassador’s original assessment of the Benghazi attack being spontaneous was “the best information” the Administration had at the time. Pelton noted that an “FBI investigation would provide the definitive accounting of what transpired in Benghazi.”
Correction: The original version of this story said that GOP Senators called for Rice’s resignation. While several Republican Senators have criticized Rice’s assessment of the incident, only Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, has demanded her resignation.

MORE: We Need More Engagement in the Middle East, Not Less
WATCH: Libya to Citizens: Give Up Your Guns

36 comments
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NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

Just another biproduct of Obama arab spring democracy for a group of peoples that are incapable of anything resembling democracy.........

Gyre54
Gyre54

Israel's Mosad has as much reason to do this as Al Qaida. Both would like nothing more than to estrange the US from the "Arab Spring".  And they certainly have the ability to run a false flag operation. All speculation aside, I'd like to see some actual evidence before I'm willing to believe that Al Qaeda was behind this atrocity.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

Get off the crack Obama's crack and get some fresh air.  Of course this was a preplanned terrorist attack.  Israel is our ally unlike your muslim brothers non of which are either peaceful nations or democracies....

A1der
A1der

careful, ... rash thinking could transform you from Native Born to Naive Born.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

I think you have the Naive thinking market cornered as well as the rash statement market.

A1der
A1der

Al CIAda is most likely responsible.

Guess we're suppose to forget about the 1,000's of suface to air missiles

for which the Ambassador was searching.

'Fast and furious' of Lybia, covered up, ... by those who cover up so well.

We can all go back to sleep now.

Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL
Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

Media reports over the last 48 hours have revealed a slew of attacks on the Benghazi consulate over the past several months.  How did the Obama administration not know about those attacks and suddenly blame a video as the cause of the recent most attack? It doesn't make any sense.

-On April 6, two Libyans who had been fired as unarmed guards for the consulate “threw a small IED [improvised explosive device] over the Consulate fence,” 

-Two months later, the congressmen write, “under cover of darkness, assailants placed an IED on the north gate of Consulate Benghazi, blowing a hole in the security perimeter that was described by one individual as, ‘big enough for forty men to go through.’”

-Four days after that, the British ambassador’s two-car convoy “was attacked in broad daylight” by a militant with a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG.

-Militants made clear that the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, was next on the target list. “

www dot wired dot com/dangerroom/2012/10/benghazi/

A1der
A1der

Al CIAda is most likely responsible.

Guess we're suppose to forget about the 1,000's of surface to air missiles

for which the Ambassador was searching.

'Fast and furious' of Lybia, covered up, ... by those who cover up so well.

We can all go back to sleep now.

A1der
A1der

... Z Z Z Z Z z z z z z z

eliking
eliking

Obama will kill the Libyan terrorists just like he killed Bin Laden.  I am guessing in not too distant future, weeks, not months. So while Romney is going to be talking about how North Africa will magically turn around if he's elected, without offering anything of substance, Obama is going to be taking care of business.

A1der
A1der

Actually, reports were that Bin Laden died on June 6, 2006, from kidney disease;

so Obummer must have killed a dead and rotten corpse.

Of course to confirm this, just ask the SEALS involved in the operation. Oh, that's right, they died in a, 'chopper crash', ... how convenient.

Well, just examine the body to determine time of death. Oh, that's right, no one viewed the body, and it was, 'dumped in the ocean', before anyone could confirm the death, ... how convenient. 

Well, it's probably best that no one seeks the truth anyway; ... we can't handle the truth.

Just, go back to sleep......Z Z Z Z z z z z

geoff_tatum
geoff_tatum

Weren't there a good 9 or 10 attacks on our embassies amp; consulates in the Middle East during Dubya's administrations?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L...

I don't recall Democrats demanding a full-fledged investigation of the attacks when they occurred.

Also don't remember John Kerry coming out hours after the July '04 attack in Jeddah Saudi Arabia and suggesting Bush was somehow to blame.

All of these attacks were just considered "collateral damage" in the on-going "war on terror".

Weird to see how quickly Republicans forgot about these attacks now that we're in an election season where their guy isn't doing so hot.

Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL
Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

Because the Bush administration didn't go on Sunday morning talk shows and try to whitewash them. That's the difference.

geoff_tatum
geoff_tatum

Ask Bin Laden and the rest of the obliterated Taliban/Al-Qaedas if they think it's a "war" or not.

geoff_tatum
geoff_tatum

The narrative of "what exactly happened and when" was pushed by the media simply because Mitt stepped in it by running his mouth a couple of hours after the incident. 

There was never a reason to have to talk about the Bush era attacks on Sunday morning talk shows - it wasn't part of an election narrative. I'm sure they'd have had plenty of whitewash if the questions came up (they spun a nation into a war by choice after all).

Admit the only reason why this is "news" is because the GOP is desperate to find chinks in what everyone knows is surprisingly strong cred by Obama when it comes to dealing with the war on terror. They want that national security mantle back so bad but reality - and a whole bunch of dead Islamist terrorists - proves Barry has it when it comes to dealing with these creeps.

Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL
Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

How can Obama have a strong cred on war on terror when he won't even allow the term 'war on terror' be used by his administration. 

geoff_tatum
geoff_tatum

When I heard of this attack and then Romney's misguided criticism mere hours after it happened I wondered what the hoopla was all about. 

I started remembering a number of embassy/consulate attacks during another administration and don't recall much political hay being made of them - after all we are in a "war on terror" and those things will happen in "war".

Here's what I remembered courtesy of Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L...

2002 United States Karachi, Pakistan2002 US consulate bombing in Karachi2004 United States Jeddah, Saudi ArabiaJeddah consulate attack2004 United States Tashkent,UzbekistanTashkent embassy bombings2006 United States Damascus, SyriaDamascus terrorist attacks2007 United States Athens, GreeceEmbassy of the United States in Athens2008 United States Belgrade, Serbia2008 Serbia protests2008 United States San‘a’, Yemen2008 American Embassy attack in Yemen

2008 United States Istanbul, Turkey2008 United States consulate in Istanbul attack2008 United States San‘a’, Yemen2008 American Embassy attack in YemenNow, were there calls for a major Congressional investigation due to these attacks?

No.

Did the opponent of the Commander-In-Chief come out and immediately criticize our President when the 2004 Jeddah attack happened (it was right in the prime of the campaign too)?

Not according to a search of statements made about the attack by John Kerry in 2004.

What's the difference?

Republicans are desperate for ANY angle to attack Obama on (especially since they weren't on watch when OBL was taken out) and it looks like Time magazine is also needing something to get readers excited about in what has so far been a ho-hum election season.

James Parker
James Parker

The fact that the current Administration has been in dinial of islamic terroists is no suprise to anyone. (After the Fort Hood atacks the shoe bomber and the Times Square bomber denial.)  The fact that Rice was paraded out to all the morning news outlets to try and cover for the deaths of 4 fellow Americans is despicable. Under any other administrations this would have resulted in the immediate condemnation of the attacks. With this administration we get lies and tall tails of a some ridiculous video causing the deaths. While Obama's fund rasing in Las Vagas with felons and hollywood elites when 4 fellow Americans laid face down dead in Libya. Why did he continue to raise awareness of the video for  a week afterwards?  This is a national disgrace that the White House would not even send out investigators to find the perpetrators almost a month later with still no investegators in Libya.

The question should be if it is too dangerous to send in the FBI why was our ambassador not properly protected or even stationed there in the first place. 

We need answers to why this happened on 911 with no protection for our Ambassador and staff.

geoff_tatum
geoff_tatum

I wouldn't consider myself to be with "no protection" if I had those two brave Navy SEALS that sacrificed it all around me.

Since we're all in conjecture and Monday morning quarterbacking...

The city seems to be still a bit chaotic even with Moahmar gone. Nothing brings a ton of attention to yourself like a full-fledged military operation going on around you.  Perhaps the SEALS were responsible for this arrangement in order to keep a low-profile as Ambassador Stevens worked to secure our interests in what was looking like a complete storm of anti-American protest on the horizon (with the stupid anti-Islam and all).

I have no proof for this much like you have no proof for your theories.

However, you are going to be hard-pressed to convince most rational people that the President (ANY President!) would intentionally allow harm to our people. 

With hindsight could it have be handled better? 

Whenever there's the loss of American life, we always need to study and learn from the mistakes.

But trying to peg this "he's not serious about terrorism" meme on the same guy responsible for decimating almost the entire upper-echelon of Al-Qaeda....not to mention a certain Osama Bin Laden. He may not invade nations to prove it but Obama has certainly done as much, if not more, than Bush in regards to the War On Terror.

imfacepalming
imfacepalming

Posts like these are so ignorant...The American government (and every other government, for that matter) executes secret missions under your noses every day - to better our country and get things accomplished that cannot be divulged to the public, or else accomplishments would not be made.

Every administration previous to this one, and every one that will come after it, has and will lie about foreign policy and missions that happen to get their covers blown, etc. etc.

Guess what? It happens. Many of you are too ignorant to even understand the benefits you receive from things you do not know that go on right under your nose to protect our country. Get used to the fact that you're only going to be exposed to a tiny bit of the truth in these matters, because it's for your own damn good.

It has always been that way, and it will always be. If you think you are getting the truth at all times from ANY governing body, then LOL @ you.

bean cube
bean cube

The burning Quran war sellers don't care Islamist bomb down all US embassies. All they care is Americans' kids must be sold into wars for them. al-Qaeda are easily be programmed and they, the al-qaeda and Zionist, can easily program CIA as well despite most of those agents aren't Zionists.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

What part of freedom of speech did you miss in grade school lessons? Newsflash the only persons that use the term Zionists are racists like you.

morningdove
morningdove

Did the Americans or Israelis stage the Benghazi attacks considering there is not an American embassy in Benghazi. Is their a rogue group that does not care about race, creed, colour and only wants the spoils of war?

18235
18235

well, duh...!

Just because Obama is a closet Muslim, doesnt mean he can sweet talk other middle east Muslims to play nice---which is why he thought up the youtube video excuse when things didnt work out the way he planned.

oldprofessor
oldprofessor

No one has claimed credit for the deed.  Which ever organization did it still has operatives at risk. 

Yoma Ma
Yoma Ma

Oh and one last thing, it was the movie that created this nothing more.   Thank god they arrested the creator of the movie on BS probation violations to make it look good to our enemies.   

Yoma Ma
Yoma Ma

Time magazine how dare you question Messiah Obamas words?   It could not be Al qaeda- because the war on terror is over since Obama killed Osama and he told his friends in the Arab world everything is ok.  Lets keep sending them billions of dollars, and apologizing and lying to the American people.  But yes Obama's heart is in the right place, just not in our country.   

18235
18235

Time magazine must question Mullah Obama, cause Time magazine had the Occupy Wallstreet  Brats and the arab spring as their people of the year.

A year ago Occupy and Arab Spring could do no wrong, in liberal media's heart of hearts.

snowleopard (cat folk gallery)
snowleopard (cat folk gallery)

Most likely Al Queda or one of its branch groups is responsible; but what else needs to be discovered is...

Why has the admin covered up the matter for so long?

Why was the ambassador in Benghazi in the first place?

Was the ambassador meeting with someone?

What more is still to be discovered?

No matter what - Obama knew - four men died - Obama lied.

Jack Nightingale
Jack Nightingale

Since the Obama administration lies on everything else, it is no wonder that they lied about the 9/11 attack in orde to keep spotlight off them.  Sad for the American people.  Begs the question of who do you trust to do a better job handling foreign policy?

18235
18235

Foreign policy----and domestic policy.

The liberal media has been all for Obama censoring a youtube video, and putting its director into the Obama gulag...a republican wouldnt have even been allowed to think of doing such stuff.

GovernmentCoverUpClickHere
GovernmentCoverUpClickHere

 New World Order leaders have been exposed

Obama Osama

Biden BI nla DEN

Americans are waking up to the truth