Benghazi consulate assault was a ‘terrorist attack’

US intelligence officials are finally coming around to the fact that the Sept. 11 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed the US ambassador, an embassy staff worker, and two security personnel, was indeed a “terror attack” and not the aftermath of a spontaneous protest.

From Reuters:

“They were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in response to a question at a Senate hearing.

Olsen said whether the attack was planned for September 11 was under investigation, but the information so far indicated it was “an opportunistic attack” that “began and evolved, and escalated over several hours.”

There were well-armed militants in the area, he said. “What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advance planning or coordination for this attack.”

Olsen told lawmakers U.S. authorities are investigating who was responsible for the attack, and it appeared that a “number of different elements” were involved, including individuals connected to militant groups.

“As well, we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, particularly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” he said.

“The picture that is emerging is one where a number of different individuals were involved, so it’s not necessarily an either-or proposition,” Olsen said.

Libyan officials are placing the blame for the Benghazi consulate attack on Ansar al Sharia, one of several Salafi jihadist groups that operate freely in Libya. The group has issued two non-denial denials, claiming that the attack was part “spontaneous popular uprising” in reaction to an obscure video on YouTube that insults the Prophet Mohammed. Ansar al Sharia’s “denial” also claimed that although the group participated in the attack it didn’t organize it. I’ll repeat what I said on Sept. 12, just one day after the attack in Benghazi:

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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