An in-depth New York Times investigation published Saturday sheds new light on questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Questions surrounding the attack have become a major political flash point in Washington, but the report reveals a truth much murkier than either the Obama Administration or its critics in the GOP-led Congress have grasped upon. Here are five major revelations from the report.
1. Al-Qaeda was not involved in the assault
It has become an article of faith for some in the GOP that the Benghazi attack was a highly orchestrated terrorist attack led by the same group that carried out the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. “It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an al-Qaeda-led event,” said Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview on Fox News in November. But according to the Times report, there is no evidence to support this assertion.
2. Anger at the Innocence of Muslims video motivated the initial assault and fueled the anger that powered the attack
After the online film was dubbed into Arabic in September 2012, media in Cairo played a major role in stoking the rage that led to an assault on the American compound in Benghazi. Witnesses on the ground at the attack recount numerous ways in which leaders of the assault used the video to stoke the rage of militiamen.
3. The spontaneous response to the video stoked another attack that was already in the works, planned by smaller militia not affiliated with al-Qaeda
Evidence suggests that hard-line elements within the complex web of Islamist militias operating in Benghazi, including an uneducated loner and contrarian named Ahmed Abu Khattala, had been planning an attack, though it’s unclear when they had intended to strike. The U.S. government has sought to have Abu Khattala apprehended in order to press charges, but authorities and powerful Islamist elements in Libya have closed ranks around the hard-liner.
4. American officials were overly reliant on moderate Islamist elements for protection
As the assault turned full-fledged, officials called on the leaders of militias that had been publicly friendly to the U.S. to come to their aid. But when the time came, almost none turned up to rescue Americans trapped inside the compound. “Whatever happened, they were other Libyans,” said one Islamist leader who eventually did enter the compound after resisting at first.
5. Inside the compound, attackers looted and plundered wildly
Witnesses describe men taking out suits on hangers, televisions and food they found. One man reportedly poured what appeared to be Hershey’s chocolate syrup into his mouth.