Ansar al Shariah, an Islamist group in Libya that has been accused of executing last night’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, issued a statement on the assault. The statement, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, is neither a full denial nor a full claim of responsibility. The group stated that it “didn’t participate as a sole entity,” leaving open the possibility that its members were involved. Ansar al Shariah then claimed that the attack “was a spontaneous popular uprising” to a video released on YouTube that denigrated the Prophet Mohammed.
Below is an excerpt from the statement, emphasis is ours:
Ansar al-Shariah Brigade didn’t participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity, but it was carrying out its duties in al-Jala’a hospital and other places where it was entrusted with some duties. The Brigade didn’t participate as a sole entity; rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to what happened by the West.
Ansar al Shariah wants you to believe that this attack was part of a “spontaneous popular uprising,” and not an assault linked to an organized Jihadi-Salafist group that has launched attacks in Benghazi in the recent past, including against at least one foreign consulate. To believe that, you also have to believe that a group of demonstrators, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, spontaneously showed up in front of the US Consulate, and then overran the security and killed the US ambassador and three Americans. While this is certainly possible, it isn’t likely.
Update at 8:31 PM EST
Unnamed State Department officials breifed reporters late this afternoon. The description they have provided, which generally matches news reports, indicates that this wasn’t a group of rowdy protesters gone wild, but an organized attack. Fighting lasted for more than four hours before the compound was “secured.” From the briefing:
At approximately 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time yesterday, which was about 10 p.m. in Libya, the compound where our office is in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists. By about 4:15, the attackers gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it on fire. The Libyan guard force and our mission security personnel responded. At that time, there were three people inside the building: Ambassador Stevens, one of our regional security officers, and Information Management Officer Sean Smith. They became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building. The Regional Security Officer made it outside, and then he and other security personnel returned into the burning building in an attempt to rescue Chris and Sean. At that time, they found Sean. He was already dead, and they pulled him from the building. They were unable, however, to locate Chris before they were driven from the building due to the heavy fire and smoke and the continuing small arms fire.
At about 4:45 our time here in Washington, U.S. security personnel assigned to the mission annex tried to regain the main building, but that group also took heavy fire and had to return to the mission annex. At about 5:20, U.S. and Libyan security personnel made another attempt and at that time were able to regain the main building and they were able to secure it. Then, due to continued small arms fire, they evacuated the rest of the personnel and safe havened them in the nearby annex.
The mission annex then came under fire itself at around 6 o’clock in the evening our time, and that continued for about two hours. It was during that time that two additional U.S. personnel were killed and two more were wounded during that ongoing attack.
At about 8:30 p.m. our time here in Washington, so now 2 o’clock in the morning in Libya, Libyan security forces were able to assist us in regaining control of the situation. At some point in all of this – and frankly, we do not know when – we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information what his condition was at that time. His body was later returned to U.S. personnel at the Benghazi airport.