An American reporter in Benghazi, teamed with a Libyan reporter, do their best to untangle truth on the ground from politics in Washington in the matter of the attack on the Benghazi compound.
Did the attack grow out of anger against an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, or was it waged by an affiliate of Al Qaeda out to mark the 11th anniversary of its attack on United States soil? ...NYT
Republicans would like it, please, to be Al Qaeda because that way they can say Obama hasn't weakened Al Qaeda. The Issa committee in the House is working very hard to get that point across. But it's probably not AQ.
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”...NYT
American intelligence is "reserving final judgment, " according to the report, but believes that the Libyan report is correct.
Most of the attackers made no effort to hide their faces or identities, and during the assault some acknowledged to a Libyan journalist working for The New York Times that they belonged to the group. And their attack drew a crowd, some of whom cheered them on, some of whom just gawked, and some of whom later looted the compound. The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day. ...NYT
Ansar al-Shariah identified itself with the attack and publicly expressed approval. The American security chief, meeting with Issa's committee, spoke of an almost identical attack for very similar reasons in Tunisia some months ago and assured the committee that Al Qaeda was not involved.
Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, cut him off. “Don’t split words,” he said. “It is a terrorist organization.” ...NYT
Once again -- how much longer do we have to witness this? -- it's a matter of Republicans trying to change facts on the ground and make them conform to a political strategy. There's a strong likelihood, however, that a fragmented Al Qaeda, though not involved, would like to identify with any successful attack on American interests.
United States intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the fact from attackers at the mission to individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But they have also said that so far they had found no evidence of planning or instigation by the group. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, described the participation of individuals “linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic with Al Qaeda” — acknowledging, at best, a tenuous or indirect link.
“It is a promiscuous use of ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Michael Hanna, a researcher at the Century Foundation, said of those charging that Al Qaeda was behind this attack. “It can mean anything or nothing at all.”...NYT
Meanwhile, Issa's colleagues will undoubtedly continue to try to sell their spin on the incident. What gets less press attention is that it was the very same Republican House that weakened security in Libya and in other US embassies around the world when it cut some $600 billion from the State Department budget. There's plenty of evidence that they -- Republican members of Congress with campaign chests and ties to private security -- wanted it that way.